Internet Addiction in Adolescents
Problematic Internet use, which has become a global social issue, can be broadly conceptualized as an inability to control one’s use of the Internet and which leads to negative consequences in daily life. Though not considered by experts to be classed as an addiction at this point, there is evidence to indicate that Internet misuse can become compulsive and excessive to the point that positive life choices are inhibited. But is excessive Internet use a cause of adolescent depression?
Studies conducted after 2008 in Europe and the US, after Facebook reached 100 million users, have reported mixed results for the relationship between problematic Internet use and depression among adolescents. Some studies reported an association between Internet use and depression; other studies reported that social Internet use is not linked to depression.
Analyses of a recent study demonstrated that life events mediated the relationship between “Internet addiction” and adolescent depression. The study examined predictors of compulsive internet use and depression in adolescents, 21 males and 20 females, with a 12-month interval. Results indicated social internet use (i.e., using instant messaging and social networks) was associated with decreased levels of depression. High support satisfaction, use of social networking, and instant messaging contributed to lower changes in compulsive Internet use. Researchers concluded the effects of social internet use in combination with different psychosocial factors seem to have more positive effects than negative ones on change in depression and the development of compulsive internet use.
It is not new for technology to be at the forefront of discussion when it comes to adolescents. For example, television was once predicted to erode social and emotional functioning; kids were not allowed to watch too much TV. Now the internet is in the spotlight.
The association between the severity of compulsive Internet misuse and depression symptoms in adolescents should be considered in comprehensive mental health. Excessive use of any technology is likely explained by pre-existing psychopathology and may be better considered a symptom of a wider problem. Importantly, we may be overlooking the potential benefits of the internet for adolescents if researchers only focus on pathology.