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Research finds teenage internet addiction leads to emotional issues

By Jamie Salter

Internet addiction in teenagers leads to problems with processing and handling emotions, a study of Australian high school students suggests.

The paper, published in June, is the first long-term study looking at the connection between teenage internet addiction and emotion regulation difficulties.

More than 2800 young people at 17 Australian secondary schools took part in the research from Years 8 to 11.

University of Sydney lead author James Donald said the rate and intensity of online activity among teenagers was increasing daily.

“We also know that many platforms on the internet are designed to really captivate people and capture their attention,” Mr Donald said.

Just under 10 per cent of students reported themselves as being ‘highly’ or ‘very highly’ addicted to the internet, with levels of online addiction gradually and steadily increasing across the four year groups.

The students were asked questions such as, "I have difficulty doing offline activities" and "I feel more irritable when I'm offline".

“Our results show that young people who are more hooked to the internet and use it intensively will tend to report more difficulties with pursuing important goals in their life,” Mr Donald said.

“That, in turn, is very important in terms of educating well-adjusted young people and adults.”

However, there was no evidence online addiction had an impact in teenagers on emotional awareness or recognition of impulses.

The research also tested whether young people who already have general difficulties regulating their emotions were more vulnerable to the addictive nature of the internet.

“We didn't find any evidence for that and what that really suggests to us is that it's not the young people themselves that (are) ‘the cause’ of this,” Mr Donald said.

“It's the environment that they're in, it's their parents’ regulation around what they're doing online, it's the kind of access they have, it's the kind of access to devices that young people have.”

Mr Donald said teenagers’ internet use needed to be supervised in schools and at home.