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Could Your Teenager Be Addicted to the Internet? New Study Shows How This Can Literally Affect Their Brain Development

Knowledge is power when it comes to your teen’s brain health

If you’re a parent to teens, then you know that more times than not, their attention is taken up entirely by what’s happening on their phone screen. But instead of chalking it up to typical teenage behavior, you might want to consider if internet addiction is to blame — and a new meta study shows  that this particular diagnosis can have significant behavioral and developmental effects in vulnerable young minds.

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What is internet addiction? 

Internet addiction (IA) can be defined by numerous traits and characteristics, but it boils down to excessive use or compulsions to use the internet. These compulsions often have effects on people’s personal relationships, job, school work, extracurriculars and so on. 

With regards to teens, however, the fact that their minds are still developing makes internet addiction a slippery slope, and researchers at University City College London broke down the way that it can change and alter their young brains. 

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How does internet addiction affect teenagers’ brain development?

“Adolescence is a crucial developmental stage during which people go through significant changes in their biology, cognition, and personalities,” cited the researchers in the study, published in PLOS Mental Health. “Adolescents’ emotional-behavioral functioning is hyperactivated, which creates risk of psychopathological vulnerability,” they added.

For this meta study, researchers analyzed a total of 12 studies. Between these 12, a total of 237 people between the ages of 10 to 19, who had all been diagnosed with internet addiction, were analyzed using fMRI scans done on their brains. 

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One of the most significant results of the study was that there was an overall decrease in functional connectivity in the parts of the brain that are involved in active thinking. So what exactly does this mean the kids in your life?

Teenager on her phone

According to the study, young adults suffering from internet addiction who, as a result, are experiencing a decrease in functional connectivity, might experience changes in visuospatial task-related behavior (motor skills, reaction time, speed perception and more), short-term memory and attention-span. 

Additionally, one of the hypotheses this study proved to be correct was that people with internet addiction had similarities to substance users and those with gambling addictions!

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Why are teens especially prone to internet addiction?

There are many things that explain why adolescent brains are so susceptible to urges that relate to internet addiction, and a lot of it boils down to the inherent nature and mechanisms of the young brain, which are constantly developing and growing during their younger years — in terms of their social, emotional and cognitive capabilities. 

Furthermore, teenagers also deal with changes during their formative years. “Early teenagers go through a process called ‘social reorientation’ that is characterized by heightened sensitivity to social cues and peer connections,” the study explains. 

Are there other symptoms of internet addiction?

While this study focused mainly on the mental, behavioral and developmental side effects of internet addiction, it also briefly mentioned some of the more severe outcomes that could occur in those suffering from the diagnosis. 

Kids all on their phones

These included carpal tunnel syndrome, dry eyes, irregular eating and disrupted sleep. 

If you think your teen is suffering from internet addiction, remedies suggested by the study include cognitive behavioral therapy or family therapy to target symptoms, but it also urges the importance of parental education: “Parents who are aware of the early signs and onset of [internet addition] will more effectively handle screen time, impulsivity, and minimize the risk factors.”

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