Compulsive internet use has gained more attention within the last few years. Compulsive internet use is when someone has irresistible urges to use it. This can lead to spending excessive amounts of time online.
This isn’t hard to imagine since the widespread use of smartphones, social media, and other technological advancements. There is one population that seems to be impacted the most, adolescents—specifically, teenage boys .
Mental Health and Time Spent Online
There is recent research that shows there is a connection between mental health and the amount of time adolescents spend online [1,2]. Researchers and other healthcare professionals are still trying to fully understand what causes compulsive internet use. It’s uncertain whether excessive internet use causes mental health issues or vice versa.
Some research shows that teens who are struggling with loneliness or depression are more likely to turn to excessive internet use . Unfortunately, the increased amount of time online is shown to worsen symptoms of depression . This creates a difficult cycle to interrupt.
Other research shows that compulsive internet use is also associated with other mental health symptoms such as addiction or anxiety . While there is still some uncertainty around compulsive internet use, it is clear that it’s harmful.
Problematic internet use is also linked with poorer school performance and sleep disruption . Some studies show that as teenagers develop, they may grow out of excessive internet use. But because this is a somewhat new issue, researchers are still trying to figure out the real risks of unhealthy internet use.
This is part of the reason that healthcare professionals are looking into the best ways to treat harmful internet use. Currently, harmful internet use is being treated similarly to other addictions. Some treatment approaches include:
- Behavioral Changes– Creating boundaries around internet use is important. Limits could include how long someone uses it or what they do on it . For example, if someone is primarily spending most of their time gaming, then it might be helpful not to have that game installed on their phone anymore.
- Therapy– Similar to treatment for other addictions, therapy may be helpful . If there are underlying mental health issues that are feeding into this behavior, then therapy can help someone resolve them. Family therapy may also be helpful for teens. This is because some research shows that teens may turn to the internet instead of their parents if their parents are distant or emotionally not available . This may be especially true for teenage boys. Given that most boys are socialized to not express their emotions, therapy may help them find other ways to do this rather than using the internet to cope.
- Exercise– Exercise is also shown to boost people’s mood. This can be helpful when someone is reducing the amount of time they spend on the internet . This is because internet use can increase the amount of feel-good chemicals in someone’s brain . So, when they don’t have it, they may feel worse emotionally while they are adjusting.
There is a lot to learn about the effects of internet use on the brain, especially for teenagers. While we are still learning about the short and long-term effects, it doesn’t mean that parents can’t help their teens create healthy internet habits.
 University of Helsinki. (2021, February 22). Lonely adolescents are susceptible to internet addiction. Science Daily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/02/210222124640.htm
 Mental Health America. (n.d). Risky business: Internet addiction. https://www.mhanational.org/risky-business-internet-addiction
About the Author:
Samantha Bothwell, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writer, explorer, and lipstick aficionado. She became a therapist after doing her own healing work so she could become whole after spending many years living with her mind and body disconnected. She has focused her clinical work to support the healing process of survivors of sexual violence and eating disorders. She is passionate about guiding people in their return to their truest Self so they can live their most authentic, peaceful life.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published on June 1, 2021
Reviewed by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on June 1, 2021
Published on AddictionHope.com