Internet addiction in teens and young adults: Is it actually a problem?


Are America’s teens and young adults addicted to the Internet?

There’s no good way to tell, according to a paper published online Monday in the journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. That’s in part because there’s very little consistency among studies on the subject, so it’s hard to pinpoint trends in the data accurately.

Internet addiction has sometimes been defined as “problematic Internet use that is uncontrollable and damaging.” Studies have drawn possible links between Internet addiction and depression, excessive alcohol use and even injury. Figuring out how much presence it has in teens’ and young adults’ lives, then, would be the first way to address it.

First, though, the researchers needed to figure out how much information on the issue was available. They searched several databases for peer-reviewed literature related to Internet addiction, from the databases’ earliest records up to July 2010.


Even though they found 658 articles using keywords, only 18 studies were relevant to their search. They rated the quality of those studies based on a 42-point scale, including such criteria as reporting response rates, study timing and rates of missing data. The studies’ average score was an embarrassingly low 23.

“Overall, our findings suggest a paucity of empirical studies” that address problematic Internet use “among populations of U.S. adolescent and college student populations,” the authors wrote. “Despite initially finding more than 600 search hits on the topic of PIU, only 18 articles were identified that met inclusion criteria; less than half of these reported a prevalence estimate. We found no studies specifically targeting adolescent medicine.”

Many of the studies were more than 3 years old too -- a little out of date and probably not reflective of how pervasive the Internet is today.

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