More parents are concerned about internet addiction by their adolescent children than substance addiction, according to the results of a survey published in JAMA Network Open on Oct. 26.
Parents of children aged 9 to 15 years see internet use as a double-edged sword. While it fosters a sense of family connectedness, it is also a concern due to the potential for negative consequences, such as cyberbullying and addiction, the study found.
"Our results remind us that no conversation about the impact of internet technologies on our youth is complete without consideration of both the positive and negative impacts, and acknowledgment of how experiences may differ among families," study author Michael Milham, M.D., PhD, vice president and director of research at the Child Mind Institute in New York City, told Fox News Digital.
"From a public health perspective, they underscore the need for greater education and support for parents, as many have concerns and are unsure how to promote or restore healthy internet use in their young adolescents."
The researchers conducted an online survey of 1,000 parents of U.S. youth between the ages of 9 and 15 to understand their perceptions and concerns about their kids’ internet use.
Participants completed the survey between June 17 and July 5, 2022.
The survey assessed the parents’ perceptions of the risks and benefits of internet use in four main areas: their children’s physical and cognitive development, their children’s safety, the potential for addiction, and family connectedness.
Concerns about technology’s impact on children’s and teens’ mental health aren’t new.
As online activities increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, so did the potential for negative consequences of internet use among youth, according to the JAMA paper.
Excessive internet use has been associated with mental health problems that include higher rates of alcohol dependence, depression, anxiety and insomnia.
Too much time on the internet has also been linked to difficulty socializing with peers, having healthy conversations, being comfortable in social settings and showing empathy, as previous studies have shown.
Some critics point out these outcomes cannot be generalized, however, because past research studies were based on small sample sizes with the potential for selection bias.
About one-third of the parents who participated in the study reported concerns about addiction to both the internet and to substances.
Equivalent shares of parents expressed concerns about one of these types of addiction in their kids — while another third did not have worries about addiction at all.
Overall, internet addiction concerns outweighed those of substance problems.
Dr. Zachary Ginder, a psychological consultant and doctor of clinical psychology at Pine Siskin Consulting, LLC, in Riverside, California, was not involved in the study but commented on the findings.
"The finding that parents expressed greater concern about internet addiction compared to substance addiction highlights growing apprehension about problematic internet use among youth," he told Fox News Digital.
"This awareness is likely a good thing, but more research is needed before concluding that these concerns are definitively warranted or that certain online risks outweigh others."
In particular, the potential for addiction was most evident for social media use and video gaming.
The survey highlighted the growing influence of internet use in kids' lives and the importance of monitoring for potential harmful use.
"The study also reminded us that problematic internet usage patterns are correlated with both negative parenting (e.g., inconsistent discipline or poor supervision) and the presence of problematic internet usage in parents — these can be initial targets for early intervention efforts," Milham of the Child Mind Institute said in an email to Fox News Digital.
The biggest limitation, according to Milham, is that the study only included the parents’ perspectives — not the children’s viewpoints.
More can be learned by speaking directly to adolescents on the issue, the researcher said.
"I think concerns regarding online bullying, exposure to inappropriate content and addiction cannot be overlooked, as the majority of parents had at least one of each of these concerns, if not more," Milham added.
Although parents expressed both benefits and concerns about their adolescents' internet use, "the findings suggest that parental concern may be out of proportion to the actual rate of youth internet dependency," Ginder noted.
"It is clear that we need to make a greater investment into generating the scientific knowledge, safeguards and clinical resources needed to support parents in promoting and maintaining healthy use of internet technologies by their young adolescents."
The study highlighted the need for further collaboration between families, communities and the tech industry, Ginder added.
"The good news is that parents have an incredible influence and can be in the driver’s seat when it comes to setting guidelines and educating their children on healthy internet use."