Too much internet use ‘makes children behave worse’

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Noel Baker

Excessive internet use by children affects their wellbeing, leading to concerns over their conduct and hyperactivity levels – and the effect is greater among those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

New research based on data from the Growing Up in Ireland study found a “sharp increase” in engagement with digital activities between the ages of nine and 13.

It was up from 41pc to 91pc, with “full saturation” by ages 17 and 18 when 99pc were actively engaged with online activities.

The study, by Melissa Bohnert, of the department of sociology at Trinity College Dublin, alongside her colleague Pablo Gracia, found heavier use of screen time was also associated with increased negative effects, such as hyperactvitiy and conduct issues.

“Heavy levels of digital screen time (more than three hours daily) are associated with declines in wellbeing, particularly for external and prosocial functioning, while engagement in learning-oriented digital activities and gaming is associated with better adolescent outcomes.

“Low-SES [socioeconomic status] adolescents are globally more harmed than high-SES adolescents by their digital engagement, and high-SES adolescents benefit more from moderate levels of digital use and from engaging in learning-oriented digital activities,” it said.

The study is based on data from 7,685 people who were born in 1998.

According to the research, published in the Journal of Adolescence: “Our findings show dramatic changes in digital usage across adolescence, but with marked differences by SES.”

Ms Bohnert said the data did not indicate why there were worse affects for children from lower socioeconomic groups, with one theory being “differential parenting between different parenting backgrounds”.

“[Parents from] higher SES have many things – higher digital knowledge, richer digital access. They can pass on this key knowledge and skills and practices and the best way to maximise the digital world while minimising risks,” she said.

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