Effect of Internet Addiction on Teens

Published by Internet Addiction Center on

The Negative Effects of Internet Addiction in Adolescents

As Internet creator Tim Berners-Lee states, “…people growing up with the Web…take the power at their fingertips for granted.” And with this power comes reliance on the technology as it becomes more and more an extension of oneself. The term “Internet Addiction” is more than a phrase to describe someone’s inability to put down their smartphone; it’s a clinically diagnosable disorder given to those who have little self-control to stop browsing. Researchers estimate that between 1% and 8% of US adults have Internet Addiction disorder, while 13-14% of young adults qualify for the disorder.

This startling statistic has prompted researchers to take a closer look at the effects of Internet addiction in young adults. Numerous negative implications have been found, including high rates of social phobia, self-harm, suicide ideation, and negative mental health effects. While Internet Addiction may not necessarily cause these negativities, mild effects can be amplified by Internet use. Teens curious about self-harm, for example, may browse self-harm sites which normalize and encourage self-harm behavior.

Navigating the social world as a teen can cause distress as friendships change and romantic pursuits end in heartbreak. Many teens find solace from this complicated social world through online means, where they can interact anonymously, form online friendships, and seek social support. However, substituting a virtual world for the real one can cause teens to experience hardships forming real world relationships. Social anxiety and social phobia are common among teens who spend an excessive amount of time on the Internet. While many individuals fear social situations in their younger years, teens are learning to hide behind a screen rather than develop tools for tackling their anxieties.

This fear of social situations ultimately decreases the chance for adolescents to form healthy social networks, which increases the likelihood of experiencing depression, anxiety, and lowered self-esteem. Although the post-high school years allow opportunities for adolescents to form new relationships, many adolescents find it difficult to undo patterns of addictive online behavior. This unfortunately may cause further distress and more serious mental health concerns.

Increases in self-harm and suicidal ideation due to Internet addiction are critically important problems to address. Young adults who spend more time online are at a higher risk of being bullied by peers or other Internet users. Victims of online harassment are more likely to be depressed and have thoughts of suicide, particularly when they lack supportive in-person social networks. This is especially important for girls, who are more likely to bully and be bullied online compared to boys.

Reducing Internet addiction is complicated, as the Internet can provide young adults with important social networks and helpful resources. Parents can encourage their teens to engage in after school activities as well as model non-Internet behavior like exercise and reading books. While it may be difficult to monitor which sites teens are looking at, parents can research and share helpful sites that support their teen’s life goals and provide healthy social connections.

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