College Students’ Internet Addiction Have Mixed Effects on Their Families

There’s good news and bad news for college students who are addicted to the Internet, according to a new study.

On one hand, the Internet helps keep them connected to their families when they are apart. But when they are together, their family complains about their excessive use of the Internet.

According to researchers from Georgia State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the study is the first to show how college students in the United States diagnosed with Problematic Internet Use (PIU) perceive how their addiction affects their families.

Young adults are at an especially high risk for behavioral addictions, researchers noted. Problematic Internet Use is considered a behavioral addiction with characteristics similar to substance abuse disorders.

PIU also has been linked with negative mental health consequences, such as depression, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, hostility, social phobia, alcohol abuse, self-injuries and sleep difficulties.

College students are especially vulnerable to developing PIU. They have free Internet access, large blocks of free time, courses that require its use, and sudden freedom from parental control and monitoring, the researchers pointed out.

Estimates of PIU across the U.S. population vary, with some putting its prevalence as high as 15 percent.

The research team, which included child welfare expert Dr. Susan Snyder of Georgia State’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, conducted a study of 27 U.S. university students who identified themselves as problematic Internet users.

“We wanted to better understand students with Problematic Internet Use — those who reported spending more than 25 hours a week on the Internet on non-school or non-work-related activities, and who experienced Internet-associated health or psychosocial problems,” she said.

“Specifically, we wanted to understand how the Internet affects students’ family relationships positively and negatively.”

On the plus side, the students reported their time on the Internet often improved family connectedness when they and their family were apart. However, their excessive Internet use led to increased family conflict and disconnectedness when family members were all together.

The researchers found that most of the students with PIU felt their families also overused the Internet, with parents not setting enough limits for either parent or sibling Internet use.

Snyder said the new study “offers a first step toward the design of effective interventions to address PIU among the college-age population,” adding the researchers “hope it will serve to inform clinical practice and health policy in this area.”

Source: Georgia State University

PHOTO: This is Susan Snyder. Credit: Georgia State University.