Social media is the number one way in which teenagers spend their leisure time. According to the Pew Research Center, 92% of surveyed teenagers age 13 to 17 access the internet daily, and 24% reported being online “almost constantly.” Access to the virtual world provides teens with opportunities to develop emotionally by engaging in social interactions and building friendships. People who may feel shy or uncomfortable find ways to flourish in the gaming world. For some users, however, internet gaming can turn from positive social interaction to addiction.
Research on social networking addiction and internet gaming disorders finds that intensive online activity can negatively impact youth’s mental health. Gaming addiction is clinically referred to as internet gaming disorder (IGD), and occurs from an accumulation of behavioral patterns over the course of a year that result in “persistent and recurrent use” of video games. A person may be diagnosed with IGD when at least five out of nine behavioral patterns are met. These include: preoccupation with games, withdrawal symptoms, and deceiving family members. Social networking site (SNS) addiction is more broad, occurring when a person is “overly concerned” about social networking to the point that it impairs social activities, health, and wellbeing.
Halley M. Pointes, with the International Gaming Research Unit, conducted a study to look at how internet gaming disorder and social networking site addiction affected the mental health and wellbeing of youth of 509 students in Portugal between the ages of 10 and 18.
Being young and male has a small, yet significant, association with increased symptoms of internet gaming disorder. Although other studies have found social networking to be more common among girls, Pointes found social networking addiction to be unrelated to age or gender. Social networking addiction and internet gaming disorder were positively associated with one another, meaning increased use of one predicted increased use of the other.
Social network addiction and internet gaming disorder were also positively, significantly correlated to depression, anxiety, and stress among the teenagers surveyed.
Social network addiction and internet gaming disorder were also positively, significantly correlated to depression, anxiety, and stress among the teenagers surveyed. The students who were more addicted to their phones and games experienced higher levels of psychiatric distress. SNS addiction was most strongly associated with elevated stress, followed closely by depression. IGD was most closely associated with elevated levels of stress. Both IGD and SNS addiction were found to exacerbate symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. But internet gaming disorder had a greater impact than social network addiction. Researchers are still trying to determine whether psychiatric distress pushes youth to become more dependent on online networking and gaming, or whether the addiction of online activities leads to psychiatric distress.
Researchers are still trying to determine whether psychiatric distress pushes youth to become more dependent on online networking and gaming, or whether the addiction of online activities leads to psychiatric distress.
Another researcher, Dr. Daniel Kardefelt-Winther argues that we may be approaching the idea of internet gaming and social networking incorrectly. He disagrees with the impromptu use of ‘addiction’ without understanding why these disorders occur or persist, and explains how findings suggest that these behavioral disorders may be closer to coping strategies. He suggests that referring to these disorders as addictive might limit the perspective of researchers.
It would be incorrect to suggest, however, that all social media use and gaming is bad. As with anything, finding a balance is key. The use of digital technology has been found to be beneficial, to a point. Using social media can trigger the same part of the brain as eating and intimacy, helping to improve moods through the release of dopamine. Internet gaming and social media are important tools for socializing that allow teens to develop long-lasting and meaningful friendships. It’s equally important recognize and gently guide teens away from overuse and dependency.