Internet addiction in teenagers leads to problems with processing and handling emotions, a study of Australian high school students suggests.
The paper, published in June, is the first long-term study looking at the connection between teen internet addiction and emotion regulation difficulties.
More than 2800 young people at 17 Australian high schools took part in the research from grades eight through to 11.
Lead author James Donald from the University of Sydney said the rate and intensity of online activity among teenagers is increasing daily.
“We also know that many platforms on the internet are designed to really captivate people and capture their attention,” Dr Donald told AAP on Friday.
Just under 10 per cent of students reported themselves as being ‘highly’ or ‘very highly’ addicted to the internet, with levels of online addiction gradually and steadily increasing across the four year groups.
The teenagers were asked questions such as, “I have difficulty doing activities that are offline activities” and “I feel more irritable when I’m offline”.
“(These are) the kinds of kind of symptomatology that goes along with many other forms of addiction to things like substances,” Dr Donald said.
“Our results show that young people who are more hooked to the internet and use it intensively will tend to report more difficulties with pursuing important goals in their life.
“That, in turn, is very important in terms of educating well-adjusted young people and adults.”
However, there was no evidence online addiction has an impact in teens on emotional awareness or recognition of impulses.
Another idea tested in the research was whether young people who already have general difficulties regulating their emotions are more vulnerable to the addictive nature of the internet.
“We didn’t find any evidence for that and what that really suggests to us is that it’s not the young people themselves that (are) ‘the cause’ of this,” Dr Donald said.
“It’s the environment that they’re in, it’s their parents’ regulation around what they’re doing online, it’s the kind of access they have, it’s the kind of access to devices that young people have.”
Schools need to carefully consider what they are requiring students to do online and how this is managed at school and at home, Dr Donald said.
“We need to think holistically here,” he said.
“The key thing really is, is it unsupervised or is it not?”