A new study found that 1 in 5 American parents are concerned their teenager is addicted to the internet even though they believe the internet can bring families closer together.
Parents are more likely to be concerned about internet addiction than about drug or substance addiction among their teens.
“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,” said Dr. Michael Milham, the vice president and director of research at the Child Mind Institute who authored the study, while speaking to Fox News.
The JAMA Network Open survey was one of the largest of its kind and asked 1,000 parents about their perceptions and concerns associated with their children’s internet use patterns. About 22% of participants were concerned their child is dependent on the internet.
The majority of parents were concerned about potential cyberbullying (53%) and exposure to inappropriate consent (64%). Parents feared that their teenagers’ use of the internet might negatively impact their social (52%), cognitive (46%), or physical (64%) development.
Almost 35% of parents had no concern about either internet or substance addiction among their teens while roughly 33% were worried about both.
“When questioned about specific internet activities and respondents’ perceived risk for internet addiction, social networking programs were highlighted as being most concerning (304 [30.2%]), followed by video gaming (124 [12.3%]),” wrote the researchers. “Almost one-fifth of parents (187 [18.6%]) reported no concerns with specific internet platforms.”
Facebook was found to be the platform of most concern among parents who worry most about their teens’ use of social networking sites. Parents who were most concerned about their teenagers’ online gaming habits identified Fornite, Robloc and Grand Theft Auto to be the most concerning games.
Parents also acknowledged the benefits of internet use among minors.
“When asked for perceptions of the effect of internet use on family connectedness, respondents were generally in agreement that its use increases family bonds,” wrote the researchers. “This perceived benefit was marginally greater among immediate families vs extended families (568 [56.5%] vs 468 [46.6%]). However, up to one-fifth of respondents indicated that the internet did not improve family connectedness (210 [20.9%]) and up to one-third remained neutral (327 [32.5%]).”
Additionally, more than 80% of parents also believe they can discuss their concerns with their children. At least 7 of every 10 parents reported they felt their teens use the internet responsibly.
Internet addiction emerged in the 2000s as a new concern among child welfare advocates.
The term “mouse potato” – which refers to someone who spends a great deal of time on the computer – was added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary in 2006.
In 2017, NPR reported psychologists had observed an emerging trend of compulsive internet use and internet use among teens. The outlet noted modern teens use the internet to “numb themselves from what’s really going on inside” just as other generations had used drugs or alcohol. At the time, China had formally recognized “internet addiction” as a mental health condition.