The Link Between Teen Stress and Internet Addiction
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic rerouted most personal interactions into the virtual world, teenagers were spending a great deal of time online. The excessive screen time has had some adverse effects on everyone, but particularly on younger people. The link between teen stress and internet addiction has been clear for several years but is now growing with intensity.
The online world has been easily accessible for several years. The generation of teenagers, now known as Generation Z, are considered “digital natives,” meaning they’ve grown up in the midst of technology. They’ve never known a time when there wasn’t an internet or social media. Now they use their online time not just as a tool for research or to do homework, but as a social environment on which they’ve come to depend for personal interaction.
Young people are now isolated from their friends and classmates, as most schools have shifted to online learning and social activities have been severely curtailed. During the pandemic, teens may only have access to their social circle through the internet, on social media, and on gaming sites.
Internet addiction is not new, however. In a survey conducted in 2016, half of the teenagers responding said they believed they were addicted to their electronic device. Three-fourths of the teens said they felt compelled to respond immediately to social media posts as well as to text messages and other notifications that popped up on their screens.
The Link Between Internet Addiction and Stress
More recent studies have shown the close relationship between stress and internet addiction, particularly in adolescents. These studies reveal that there is a link between teen stress and internet addiction, finding that the individuals’ coping style, time management tendencies, as well as other factors play an intermediary role in the connection. Social support has been found to play a regulatory role in the link.
Social Anxiety and Internet Addiction
Researchers have also found that social anxiety is closely related to internet addiction, actually increasing the probability of the addiction. Kids who display the symptoms of social anxiety are more likely to become addicted to internet use. The relationship is more obvious in male teens.
A study of 1,634 middle school students conducted in 2019 found that internet addiction is positively correlated with stress and social anxiety and negatively correlated with social class. The researchers found that social class indirectly influences internet addiction by moderating the relationship between stress and social anxiety. This means that teens from different social classes have different types of anxiety when they feel the stress, which influences their choices concerning internet use.
Stress and Internet Addiction During COVID-19
In a more recent research study of just over 1,000 middle school students, the effects of the pandemic were included in determining the link between teen stress and internet addiction. The average age of the group was 14.66 years. Just like adults, teens are encountering psychological impacts and stress due to the COVID-19 outbreak and the resulting restrictions put in place that affect almost every aspect of daily life.
The more recent study found that having a poor family function increases the likelihood that middle school students will increase their use of the internet. They are undoubtedly using their online activity in an attempt to try to alleviate the stress they are experiencing within their family life. Parents are also stressed during the pandemic, possibly working from home, managing new tasks such as overseeing home-schooling activities, and potentially even dealing with financial issues because of the virus outbreak.
Internet addiction may be a behavioral symptom of poor family function, or this increased family stress. As professionals and as parents, we need to monitor teens more closely during the pandemic especially, to determine whether they may become overly dependent on their virtual social support and on their internet activities, in an attempt to deal with pandemic-related stress.
We’re Here to Help During the Pandemic
At R&A Therapeutic Partners, we understand that the stress of this new environment can cause significant challenges for teens and for the whole family. The link between teen stress and internet addiction is clear as a growing concern, as teens increasingly turn to their virtual support system during the pandemic.
We provide family counseling and parenting support, as well as psychotherapy and therapeutic consulting services, to support you and your mental health. We offer in-office and telehealth therapy options during COVID-19. We encourage you to contact the Miami therapeutic consultants Raymond Estefania and Ana Moreno to learn more about the services R&A Therapeutic Partners offers. Call us at 786-452-7352 to schedule your appointment.
At R&A Therapeutic Partners Raymond Estefania and Ana Moreno specialize in substance use and mental health disorder evaluations, treatment, intervention and therapeutic/educational consulting for clients throughout the greater South Florida area, as well as nationally and internationally. For more resources and information please visit Therapeutic-Partners.com or on Facebook.