Parents of teens more concerned about internet addiction than drug use, study finds: ‘Problematic patterns’

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More parents are concerned about internet addiction by their adolescent children than substance addiction, according to the results of a survey published in JAMA Network Open on Oct. 26.

Parents of children aged 9 to 15 years see internet use as a double-edged sword. While it fosters a sense of family connectedness, it is also a concern due to the potential for negative consequences, such as cyberbullying and addiction, the study found.

“Our results remind us that no conversation about the impact of internet technologies on our youth is complete without consideration of both the positive and negative impacts, and acknowledgment of how experiences may differ among families,” study author Michael Milham, M.D., PhD, vice president and director of research at the Child Mind Institute in New York City, told Fox News Digital.

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“From a public health perspective, they underscore the need for greater education and support for parents, as many have concerns and are unsure how to promote or restore healthy internet use in their young adolescents.”  

More parents are concerned about internet addiction than substance addiction in their adolescent children, according to the results of a recent survey. What’s needed is greater “education and support for parents,” said the study’s author.  (iStock)

The researchers conducted an online survey of 1,000 parents of U.S. youth between the ages of 9 and 15 to understand their perceptions and concerns about their kids’ internet use.

Participants completed the survey between June 17 and July 5, 2022.

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The survey assessed the parents’ perceptions of the risks and benefits of internet use in four main areas: their children’s physical and cognitive development, their children’s safety, the potential for addiction, and family connectedness.

Potential mental health problems

Concerns about technology’s impact on children’s and teens’ mental health aren’t new.

As online activities increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, so did the potential for negative consequences of internet use among youth, according to the JAMA paper.

Parent and child on a cell phone

The researchers did an online survey of 1,000 parents of U.S. youth between the ages of 9 and 15 to understand their perceptions and concerns about their kids’ internet use. (Cyberguy.com)

Excessive internet use has been associated with mental health problems that include higher rates of alcohol dependence, depression, anxiety and insomnia.

Too much time on the internet has also been linked to difficulty socializing with peers, having healthy conversations, being comfortable in social settings and showing empathy, as previous studies have shown.

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Some critics point out these outcomes cannot be generalized, however, because past research studies were based on small sample sizes with the potential for selection bias. 

Social media, video gaming concerns

About one-third of the parents who participated in the study reported concerns about addiction to both the internet and to substances.

Equivalent shares of parents expressed concerns about one of these types of addiction in their kids — while another third did not have worries about addiction at all.

teen holding phone

The potential for addiction was most evident for social media use and video gaming, the survey found. (iStock)

Overall, internet addiction concerns outweighed those of substance problems.

Dr. Zachary Ginder, a psychological consultant and doctor of clinical psychology at Pine Siskin Consulting, LLC, in Riverside, California, was not involved in the study but commented on the findings.

“This awareness is likely a good thing, but more research is needed before concluding that these concerns are definitively warranted or that certain online risks outweigh others.”

“The finding that parents expressed greater concern about internet addiction compared to substance addiction highlights growing apprehension about problematic internet use among youth,” he told Fox News Digital. 

“This awareness is likely a good thing, but more research is needed before concluding that these concerns are definitively warranted or that certain online risks outweigh others.”

Mom with daughter on phone

“It is clear that we need to make a greater investment into generating the scientific knowledge, safeguards and clinical resources needed to support parents in promoting and maintaining healthy use of internet technologies by their young adolescents,” said the study author. (iStock)

In particular, the potential for addiction was most evident for social media use and video gaming. 

The survey highlighted the growing influence of internet use in kids’ lives and the importance of monitoring for potential harmful use. 

“The study also reminded us that problematic internet usage patterns are correlated with both negative parenting (e.g., inconsistent discipline or poor supervision) and the presence of problematic internet usage in parents — these can be initial targets for early intervention efforts,” Milham of the Child Mind Institute said in an email to Fox News Digital. 

Limitations of the study

The biggest limitation, according to Milham, is that the study only included the parents’ perspectives — not the children’s viewpoints. 

“Parents have an incredible influence and can be in the driver’s seat when it comes to setting guidelines and educating their children on healthy internet use.”

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