The science behind how loneliness can create internet addiction

internet addiction, loneliness
© Kiriill Ryzhov

The highest risk revealed by this research is for adolescent boys aged 16, who face a strong chance of becoming temporarily addicted to the internet

COVID-19 has pushed education largely online, for countries which still exist in a state of lockdown-limbo.

For many teenagers, this means that hours are spent online completing homework, after hours spent online attending live classes. Or it means that they’re cut off from their daily human interaction, from continuing to develop as people in their own rate. It can feel suffocating, particularly if parents or guardians are distant or disengaged.

Despite this isolation, in general, teens do not like to turn on their cameras for classes. As the established “norm”, a lack of visual interaction can fuel the dissonance between themselves and a community.

A separate team of researchers investigated the visible difference in the human brain that comes from extended experiences of loneliness.

The internet can be a “double-edged sword”

Researchers have long understood the internet to be a viable support mechanism for individuals who are lonely. This mechanism remains ever-relevant under the current situation of pandemic isolation, especially because technology bridges a gap between lived reality and a blank canvas, in which you could be anything.

This can be a good thing. It can also be a terrible thing.

“In the coronavirus period, loneliness has increased markedly among adolescents. They look for a sense of belonging from the internet. Lonely adolescents head to the internet and are at risk of becoming addicted. Internet addiction can further aggravate their malaise, such as depression,” said Professor of Education and study lead Katariina Salmela-Aro from the University of Helsinki.

Lonely adolescents head to the internet

Here, researchers investigated detrimental internet use by 1,750 Finnish teenagers over a couple of years, from age 16 to 18.

Internet addiction risk was highest for 16 year old boys

They found that the risk of internet addiction was highest for 16 year old teenagers, particularly boys. The problem doesn’t always stay with a person though. It can either ease up as they enter adulthood or stay a problem.

The improvement is linked to adolescent development in the brain, where self-regulation and control vastly improve.

Professor Salmela-Aro further commented: “It’s comforting to know that problematic internet use is adaptive and often changes in late adolescence and during the transition to adulthood. Consequently, attention should be paid to the matter both in school and at home.

“Addressing loneliness too serves as a significant channel for preventing excessive internet use.”

Read the full study here.

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