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Search Health Information    Online Addiction Puts Teens at Risk for Depression
 Mental Health Center Feature Story

Online Addiction Puts Teens at Risk for Depression
Parents urged to monitor kids' Web use and seek help if needed

Online Addiction Puts Teens at Risk for Depression

(HealthDay News) -- The Internet -- a source for sharing music, endless information and a way to connect with family and friends -- has a darker side for some teens, who may be at risk for developing depression from spending too much time online.

As with other addictive behaviors, so-called "pathological Internet use" has been identified as a source of relationship problems, aggressiveness and other health problems. But researchers say that early intervention may help young people reduce their risk for developing these and other psychiatric problems.

The information came from a study by Australian researchers, who compiled information on the Internet use of 1,041 Chinese students, 13 to 18 years old.

They identified about 6 percent of the students as having a moderately pathological Internet problem and 0.2 percent as having a serious Internet addiction.

Following up nine months later, the researchers found that 0.2 percent of the teens had symptoms of anxiety and more than 8 percent had developed depression. Overall, the chances of becoming depressed were 2 times higher among teens with an addiction to the Internet than among those who were not addicted, according to the report, published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

"Even mentally healthy young people may succumb to depression after a long exposure of problematic use of the Internet," the study's lead researcher, Lawrence T. Lam, from the School of Medicine, Sydney, and the University of Notre Dame Australia, told HealthDay. "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."

Lam urged parents to be vigilant about their children's online habits. "Should there be any concern about young people involving problematic Internet-use behavior, professional help should be sought immediately," he said.

Michael Gilbert, a senior fellow at the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication, told HealthDay 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."

But, Gilbert wondered, were the teens in the study who became depressed at risk for depression before they became addicted to the Internet?

"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 said.

He suggested that the link between Internet overuse and depression may be due to the isolating nature of spending so much time online.

"The technology changes, the medium changes, but the issue always comes down to parents ascertaining control over their children's behavior and monitoring it," Gilbert said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that parents set limits on their teens' Internet use, such as:

  • Set a time frame. Allow teens a specified amount of time they can spend online. The academy recommends limiting total screen time (TV, computer, game systems) to no more than one or two hours daily.
  • Encourage socialization. Surfing the Web should not be a substitute for other important activities. The time teens spend in isolation at the computer would be better invested in developing social skills or engaging in physical activity.
  • Establish ground rules. Make sure teens know which Internet sites are appropriate and which are not.
  • Don't allow computers in the bedroom. If a teen's computer is in a more central location in the home, parents and guardians are better able to monitor online activities.

On the Web

To learn more about depression in kids, visit the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.

SOURCES: HealthDay News; Lawrence T. Lam, Ph.D., School of Medicine, Sydney, Australia, and University of Notre Dame, Fremantle, Australia; Michael Gilbert, senior fellow, Center for the Digital Future, Annenberg School of Communication, University of Southern California, Los Angeles; Aug. 2, 2010, Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, online; American Academy of Pediatrics (www.healthychildren.org)

Author: Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Publication Date: July 31, 2011


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