While some parents are concerned their teens may get hooked on drugs or alcohol, another growing concern for parents is teenage Internet addiction. A new study confirms parents have a right to worry, because there are many health and social issues for young people who spend too much time online. In fact, a new study found prolonged internet use to be linked to obesity, social isolation, skipping meals, sleeping problems, and developing depression and stress.
The subjects consisted of 2,433 male and female first-year students from The Chinese University of Hong Kong. Each student was instructed to complete a survey that included questions about their daily habits, such as average Internet use, sleeping habits, hygiene, exercise, and social interaction. The students were also asked about their health promoting behaviors during the year, such as eating a healthy diet and taking nutritional supplements. The students were organized into three categories according to the amount of time spent on the Internet daily: light user (less than 1 hour), moderate user (one to four hours), and heavy user (more than four hours).
According to the results, the common profile for a heavy Internet user was a non-religious male studying engineering whose parents did not pursue higher education. Heavy internet users were the least likely to eat healthy meals, exercise, or engage in healthy hygiene practices. Even though the heavyInternet users were more likely to develop health problems, they were also the least likely to seek medical treatment and develop stress-relieving practices. Plus, they had less friends and romantic relationships. Interestingly, heavy Internet use was not associated with any type of substance abuse.
Despite the seemingly clear association between internet usage, health and social function, there are some limits to the study that should be considered. The study did not determine if heavy internet usage causes poor health choices and social dysfunction, or if individuals with poor health choices and social dysfunction are more attracted to the internet.
The researchers mentions two factors that could influence the amount of hours teenagers spend on the internet: early exposure to the internet and parental involvement. A large portion of light Internet users were students who went to Hong Kong after the age of 16. Many of those students came from Mainland China where there is less Internet exposure. Kim also suggests that low parental involvement may explain the lack of health promoting behaviors. Decreased parental monitoring has been linked with poor academic performance and delinquent behavior, so it could also be associated with Internet addiction.
Fortunately, internet addiction can be prevented. Here are a few suggestions on how parents can encourage their children to log off:
- Introduce them to new activities that do not include the computer.
- Set a limit on the amount of hours they can spend on the nIternet a day.
- Most importantly, lead by example. If you limit the amount of time your child can spend on the computer, limit your time as well.
If you believe your child’s addiction is a result of a more serious issue, consult a counselor.