Excessive internet use by children negatively impacts their well-being and raises concerns about their behavior and hyperactivity levels. The effect is greater in children from a lower socioeconomic background, according to a new study.
New research, based on data from the Growing Up in Ireland (GUI) study, found that between the ages of nine and 13 there was a “large increase” in engagement with social and digital media activities, from 41% to 91%, at “complete saturation”. ” at ages 17 and 18, when 99% of respondents were actively involved in online activities.
The study, conducted by Melissa Bohnert of the Department of Sociology at Trinity College Dublin along with her colleague Pablo Gracia, found that greater screen time use was also associated with increased negative effects such as hyperactivity and behavioral problems.
“High levels of digital screen time (i.e., more than 3 hours daily) is associated with worsening well-being, particularly with regard to external and prosocial functioning, while engagement in learning-oriented digital activities and games is associated with better outcomes in adolescents,” it was said.
“But low SES [socioeconomic status] Adolescents worldwide are more harmed by their digital engagement than adolescents with high SES, and adolescents with high SES benefit more from moderate digital use and participation in learning-oriented digital activities.”
The study is based on data from 7,685 people born in 1998. According to the study published in the Journal of Adolescence, “Our results show dramatic changes in digital usage over the course of adolescence, albeit with marked differences after SES.” Average digital screen time increases significantly in our sample of adolescents: from just 27 minutes a Age 9 to 136 minutes per weekday at age 17/18.
“However, it is not clear whether this increase in digital screen time is due to changing digital skills and parental mediation across developmental stages, or to the changing digital landscape between 2007 and 2016, when digital technologies became exponentially more mobile, accessible, and ubiquitous.” .”
Ms. Bohnert said the work is continuing to further investigate the extent of online activity and its impact on children, including children from a more recent cohort of the GUI study who were born in 2008.
Ms Bohnert said the data doesn’t show why there would be a worse impact on children from lower socioeconomic groups. One theory is “different upbringing for different educational backgrounds”.
“[Parents from] Higher SES have many things – higher digital knowledge, broader digital access, they can pass on these key knowledge, skills and practices and are the best way to maximize the digital world while minimizing risk,” she said.
Ms Bohnert said any approach to addressing these issues must be “multi-pronged” and involve both education at school and education with parents at home.
She said future research on children born in 2008 – after the introduction of smartphones – would likely show that these children experienced even higher levels of digital use.
A previous study conducted by Ms. Bohnert found that digital use had even more far-reaching negative effects on this younger group.
A separate study published this month found that among 17- and 18-year-olds who were then screened for depressive symptoms at age 20, high digital engagement compared to moderate engagement was associated with an increase in depressive symptoms, but only in young women.
This research, led by Prof Richard Layte of TCD, was also based on the 1998 GUI cohort.