NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Teenagers who are preoccupied with their Internet time may be more prone to aggressive behavior, researchers reported Monday.
In a study of more than 9,400 Taiwanese teenagers, the researchers found that those with signs of Internet “addiction” were more likely to say they had hit, shoved or threatened someone in the past year.
The link remained when the investigators accounted for several other factors — including the teenagers’ scores on measures of self-esteem and depression, as well as their exposure to TV violence.
The findings, published online by the Journal of Adolescent Health, do not however prove that Internet addiction breeds violent behavior in children.
It is possible that violence-prone teenagers are more likely to obsessively use the Internet, explained lead researcher Dr. Chih-Hung Ko, of Kaohsiung Medical University in Taiwan.
However, the findings add to evidence from other studies that media — whether TV, movies or video games — can influence children’s behavior. The also suggest that parents should pay close attention to their teenagers’ Internet use, and the potential effects on their real-life behavior, Ko told Reuters Health.
According to Ko’s team, some signs of Internet addiction include preoccupation with online activities; “withdrawal” symptoms, like moodiness and irritability, after a few Internet-free days; and skipping other activities to devote more time to online ones.
In this study, teenagers who fit the addiction profile generally were more aggression-prone than their peers. But the type of Internet activity appeared to matter as well.
Online chatting, gambling and gaming, and spending time in online forums or adult pornography sites were all linked to aggressive behavior. In contrast, teens who devoted their time to online research and studying were less likely than their peers to be violence-prone.
According to Ko, certain online activities may encourage kids to “release their anger” or otherwise be aggressive in ways they normally would not in the real world. Whether this eventually pushes them to be more aggressive in real life is not yet clear, the researcher said.
Ko recommended that parents talk to their children about their Internet use and their general attitudes toward violence.
SOURCE: Journal of Adolescent Health, online February 23, 2009.