Which Adolescents are Susceptible to Internet Addiction?

Which Adolescents are Susceptible to Internet Addiction?

 Jim Windell

             How have you coped with life during the pandemic? Were you bored, lonely, depressed? To deal with negative emotions did you turn to surfing the internet? Reading? Drinking more wine? Interacting with others on social media? Compulsively watching Netflix?

            We’ve all had to find a way to cope with a changed way of life. But if it was at times difficult for us adults, what has it been life for teenagers? And which adolescents turned to compulsive internet use?

            That’s what Finnish investigators set out to explore. That is, using a total of 1,750 Finnish study subjects, who were studied at three points in time (at ages 16, 17 and 18), researchers from the University of Helsinki investigated the detrimental internet use by adolescents. The results were recently published in Child Development.

            What they found was that the risk of being drawn into problematic internet use was at its highest among 16-year-old adolescents – and, perhaps not unexpectedly, it was a phenomenon more common among boys.

           "In the coronavirus period, loneliness has increased markedly among adolescents,” commented lead author Katariina Salmela-Aro, Professor of Education from the University of Helsinki. “They look for a sense of belonging from the internet. Lonely adolescents head to the internet and are at risk of becoming addicted.”

           And Salmela-Aro and her colleagues found that internet addiction can further aggravate their malaise, such as depression.

           For some of the boys, the problem of internet addiction persists into adulthood, but for others it eases up as they grow older. In general, the reduction of problematic internet use is often associated with adolescent development where their self-regulation and control improve, their brains adapt and assignments related to education direct their attention.

           As expected, the risk of compulsive internet use has grown in the coronavirus pandemic. For many adolescent boys, loneliness has become increasingly prevalent – and they spend longer and longer periods of time online. In the study participants, compulsive internet use had a link to depression. Depression predicted problematic internet use, while problematic use further increased depressive symptoms. Additionally, problematic use was predictive of poorer academic success. This may be associated with the fact that internet use consumes a great deal of time and can disrupt an adolescents' sleep rhythm and recovery – consequently eating up the time available for academic effort and performance.

           Interestingly, the study found that the household climate and parenting also matters. The children of distant parents have a higher risk of drifting into detrimental internet use. Also, teenagers whose parents who are not very interested in the lives of their teens, may have difficulty limiting or regulating their actions.

           Salmela-Aro also points out that problematic internet use is adaptive. “It often changes in late adolescence and during the transition to adulthood,” Salmela-Aro says. “Consequently, attention should be paid to the matter both in school and at home. Addressing loneliness too serves as a significant channel for preventing excessive internet use."

           It should be kept in mind that internet use by adolescents is a two-edged sword. That is, while the consequences of moderate use are positive, the effects of compulsive use can be detrimental. Compulsive use usually means, among other things, gaming addiction or the constant monitoring of likes on social media and comparisons to others.

           To read the original journal article, find it with this reference:

István Tóth‐Király, Alexandre J.S. Morin, Lauri Hietajärvi, Katariina Salmela‐Aro. Longitudinal Trajectories, Social and Individual Antecedents, and Outcomes of Problematic Internet Use Among Late Adolescents. Child Development, 2021; DOI: 10.1111/cdev.13525


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