The Internet is everywhere these days. Or at least it seems to be. With over three billion current users (nearly half the world's population) and more likely to come online in the years to come, the prospect of universal Internet access doesn't seem that far away any more. For adolescents in particular, the rise of the modern Internet has transformed how they interact with friends, family, and strangers around the world.
Still, with all the advantages that the Internet can bring, there is also a dark side that many parents, teachers, and health professionals often find disturbing. Can adolescents develop mental health problems due to spending too much time online? There seem to be a glut of different clinical terms used to describe problem Internet behaviour these days. Whether it is called "Internet addiction disorder," "Internet addiction,"or "Internet compulsion," some adolescents find themselves unable to stay off the Internet for long and experience problems in real-life social and academic functioning as a result.
While Internet addiction lacks many of the physical symptoms linked to drug or alcohol addiction, adolescents can still develop a psychological dependence on online activities. When their access to the Internet is cut off for any reason, they can experience a form of withdrawal as well as being unable to function normally without regular online contact. Researchers have also linked compulsive Internet use to a range of mental health concerns including low self-esteem, loneliness, depression, social phobia, and even suicidal thoughts.
To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.