Wired Culture May Be Setting Youth Up for Internet Addiction
A growing body of research suggests that too much time on the Internet may have an adverse psychological effect on some young people, with behavior and consequences similar to other addictions. The findings of a new study suggest a link between Internet addiction and mental problems including ADHD, depression and aggression.
10/08/09 9:47 AM PT
In a modern age paradox, the Internet has become a source of both edification and addiction. Teens are required to spend hours on the Web doing research and homework for school, but constant online activity can affect young minds in seriously bad ways, according to a new study.
Although earlier studies have reported similar findings, this most recent research, conducted by Chih-Hung Ko, M.D., and colleagues at Kaohsiung Medical University Chung-Ho Memorial Hospital and Kaohsiung Medical University directly ties conditions such as ADHD, depression, social phobia and open hostility to Internet addiction in teens.
The study included 2,293 seventh-graders from 10 junior high schools in southern Taiwan. The gender breakdown was 1,179 boys and 1,114 girls. Internet addiction was determined by the Chen Internet Addiction Scale (CIAS) at the onset of the study and assessed again at six, 12 and 24 months during its two-year duration. Only students scoring 64 or higher were considered to be addicted to the Internet.
Depression, ADHD, social phobia and hostility predicted the occurrence of Internet addiction in general, the researchers concluded, with hostility and ADHD being the most significant predictors. Depression and social phobia work as predictors only in female adolescents.
Measurement Methods Questioned
Rather than using clinical measurements or observations, the study relied on students self-reporting their symptoms. This methodology has raised questions among medical researchers in the West.
"Self-reporting is a poor way of verifying behaviors, especially by adolescents," said Eitan D. Schwarz, M.D., clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Northwestern University Fineberg School of Medicine.
"Also, we are not familiar here with the Internet Addiction Questionnaire by Chen, which has not shown up in Western publications," Schwarz told TechNewsWorld. "So it is not clear what exactly they are measuring."
In general, girls tend to have more internalizing disorders, such as anxiety and depression, he pointed out. Boys tend to have more externalizing behavior disorders, like ADHD, and hostility.
"So it is not clear what control groups or internal comparisons neutralized these facts in the study," said Schwarz. "Cultural differences may also affect generalizability of the findings to Western cultures. All these problems limit the importance of the study significantly."
Check Your Role Modeling
Still, the study's findings may help alert parents to the possibility that a teen may be addicted to the Internet if any of these conditions are present.
There are other ways to detect Internet addiction, however.
"The signs of Internet addiction are no different from other addictions," said Robert Kesten, executive director of the Center for Screen-Time Awareness.
"You stay away from those who care about you, become more solitary and demonstrate a lack of interest in anything but what you are addicted to," he told TechNewsWorld. "When it is taken away, you become sullen, angry, depressed -- and feel both a sense of loss and depression."
The most important thing parents can do if this happens to their child is examine their own use of technology and see if it is having a negative impact on their family, Kesten advised.
"Often, children start this behavior because parents are always on the cellphone, computer or PDA," he observed.
"It is part of the family behavior," he said.
If your teen has an Internet addiction, it is important to remove all technology from the teen's bedroom and "put it in a very public space -- if not away -- so it can only be used with permission and with supervision," Kesten said.