The internet is an amazing resource and social connector and a recent study found that about 90% of school children with internet access use it to get educational information for school work, as well as other activities such as playing games and social interaction for example. Like most things in life, used responsibly the internet is a fantastic resource and can be a lot of fun.
However there have been a rash of recent studies showing that the prevalence of internet addiction, the feeling one needs to go online as a first recourse and as a preference to engaging with other real life activities, especially among children, is growing. The estimations of the growth of internet addiction in academic research studies range from 1.4% up to 17.9% of the adolescent population or 11 - 15 year olds in both western and eastern cultures. With newly published studies coming in at the higher end of this range, this means that somewhere approaching 1 in 6 of our 11-15 year old children may well be addicted to the internet. Given the study I reported on last week, this is likely to get worse as todays internet toddlers grow into adolescents.
Like every addiction, internet addiction carries a cost and a study to be published next month in the journal Comprehensive Psychiatry highlights some of that cost.
The study looked at 2293 11-14 year olds and assessed them for levels of depression, hostility, social anxiety whilst also monitoring their online habits. The researchers then measured the children a year later to see if there were any links. Now a number of studies have already linked internet addiction with depression, particularly in young adults, 16 - 21 year olds.
The interesting thing about this study is the inclusion of social anxiety. There have been a number of studies already which show that people tend to feel less social anxiety whilst online compared to face-to-face interaction. There is strong speculation in the academic world that this effect maybe driving some peoples addiction to the internet as a proxy for live 'in person' social engagement.
Additionally two studies have found that people with depression also have lower levels of anxiety and hostility when socialising online. This sounds like the internet is a good thing for these people, right?
A famous study in 2011 found that chronic online gamers suffered from greater levels of depression, social anxiety, social phobia (complete aversion to face-to-face contact), and aggression / hostility than individuals who either didn't partake of such games or were just light users. The effects of this aren't just mental. Studies have found that people with higher levels of internet derived aggression and hostility also have higher levels of cardiovascular issues as well as other circulatory problems.
Anyway, this study, led by Dr. Ju-Yu Yen an academic, medical doctor and psychiatrist, found that the longer an individual is addicted, particularly in the adolescent years, the slower the recovery, when treatment or an intervention occurs. Basically the sooner internet addiction is found and dealt with the better the outcome and the faster the symptoms of depression, anxiety and hostility / aggression will reduce.
A number of interventions have been tested where internet addicted people with high levels of depression, anxiety and aggression / hostility have their online addiction treated with positive results. The aggression / hostility tends to reduce the fastest after the individuals are no longer using the internet in such heavy doses, with depression levels also dropping as face to face socialisation increases. Anxiety tends to be the last issue to reduce following such an intervention.
I am currently writing a book titled "ADJUSTED: What the research says about how to bring up emotionally well adjusted, resilient and competent children". If you would like to get your hands on an advanced copy just click here.
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