Teen Depression Linked to High Internet Use
< Aug. 04, 2010 > -- A new study released this week links the risk for developing depression to teens who spend too much time on the Internet.
The report is published in the online edition of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
Experts say that since the 1990s, uncontrolled or unreasonable Internet use has been identified as a problem with signs similar to other addictions. Internet use to the point of addiction has been linked with relationship problems, health problems, aggressive behavior, and other psychiatric symptoms, they add.
"Parents should be vigilant about their children's online behavior," says lead researcher Lawrence T. Lam, Ph.D., from the School of Medicine, Sydney, and the University of Notre Dame, Australia. "Should there be any concern about young people involving problematic Internet-use behavior, professional help should be sought immediately."
Dr. Lam says this sort of behavior may be a manifestation of some underlying problems that are more insidious.
He adds, "Given the results obtained from the study, even mentally healthy young people may succumb to depression after a long exposure of problematic use of the Internet. The mental health consequences of problematic Internet use for those who have already had a history of psychological or psychiatric problems would be more damaging."
Study Details Revealed
For the study, Dr. Lam and his colleague Zi-Wen Peng, from the Ministry of Education and SunYat-Sen University in Guangzhou, China, collected data on pathological Internet use among 1,041 Chinese teens aged 13 to 18 years.
The teens were tested for depression and anxiety, and were questioned about pathological Internet use and common addictive behaviors.
At the study's onset, the researchers classified 6.2 percent of the teens as having a moderately pathological Internet problem and 0.2 percent as seriously at risk.
The teens were reassessed for depression and anxiety nine months later. The researchers found 0.2 percent had symptoms of anxiety and 8.4 percent had become depressed.
The risk of becoming depressed was 2.5 times higher among teens who were addicted to the Internet compared with those who were not, Dr. Lam and Peng found.
However, there was no association between pathological Internet use and anxiety, they noted.
High Internet Use Risky
"This study has a direct implication on the prevention of mental illness among young people," says Dr. Lam. "The results of the study indicated that young people who use the Internet pathologically are most at risk of mental problems and would develop depression when they continue with that behavior."
Early intervention and prevention that targets at-risk groups with identified risk factors are effective in reducing the burden of depression among young people, Dr. Lam adds.
"Screening for at-risk individuals in the school setting could be considered as an effective early prevention strategy," he says. "Hence, a screening program for pathological use of the Internet could also be considered in all high schools in order to identify at-risk individuals for early counseling and treatment."
Stronger Evidence Needed
Michael Gilbert, a senior fellow at the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication, says that "it's not a revolutionary thought that kids get caught up on the Internet and it can lead to certain kinds of psychological behavior."
For Gilbert, the question remains whether or not the teens who became depressed were at risk for depression before they became addicted to the Internet. Moreover, he wonders if they are also at risk for other addictive behaviors.
One factor to the link between overuse of the Internet and psychological problems like depression may be that the Internet is actually isolating and alienating, Gilbert says.
"Parents are indicating to us that a lot of their children's friendship circles are contracting by reason of the fact they are spending too much time on the Internet," he says. "This ties in generally with the notion that Internet behavior is becoming disruptive in the family."
Spending too much time on the Internet is a so-called "process addiction," like gambling and pornography, Gilbert says. "We are going to see more of these problems, and [they] are especially acute in adolescence when kids are struggling with defining their social circumstances," he adds.
The key for parents is to monitor their children's media time and content, says Gilbert.
"The technology changes, the medium changes, but the issue always comes down to parents ascertaining control over their children's behavior and monitoring it," he says.
Always consult your child's physician or other healthcare provider for more information.
For more information on health and wellness, please visit health information modules on this Web site.
Protecting Kids From Internet Crime
Computers and the Internet have become an important part of our lives and our children's lives. An estimated 77 million American children and teens are now online, according to the US Justice Department.
Youngsters spend time online messaging, chatting, searching, and surfing. Although most of these Internet experiences are likely positive, parents need to be aware of the dangers in order to better protect their children.
Children and teens can become victims through online chat rooms, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). A computer-sex offender can be any age, male or female. Children and teens often do not realize the potential danger of these contacts, the FBI says.
How can you tell if your child might be in contact with an offender? Here are some possible warning signs, the FBI says:
If you suspect that your child is communicating with a computer predator online, talk to your child and share your concerns. Look at the files on your child's computer, including your child's e-mails. Use Caller ID to find out who is calling your child; you may also be able to block specific numbers.
Here are some ideas from the FBI on how to limit the chances that someone online will take advantage of your child:
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