Is your teen's internet use helping or hurting the family? Study reveals mixed feelings from parents

A recent study in the journal JAMA Network Open discusses both the positive and negative aspects of adolescent internet use according to the parents of the users.

Study: Parent-perceived benefits and harms associated with internet use by adolescent offspring. Image Credit: goodluz / Shutterstock.com

Study findings

The researchers provided parents of adolescents from 10-15 years of age with a short survey in June 2022. The participant responses provided data for the calculation of internet addiction test scores for both parents and their children, parenting scores, and a family connectedness score.

About 72% of parents believed their children could use the internet responsibly. The same proportion of parents felt they could tell if their children were spending excessive time online and had plans in place to divert their attention to healthier ways of spending their time.

Most parents estimate their children’s internet use at less than three hours a day. Over 80% of parents were confident that they could talk about these topics with their children.

About 50% of parents thought that internet use benefited their families by improving family connectedness among nuclear and extended families. Perceived benefits included the ability to share good experiences, better communication, more flexibility, and increased family time together. Social media use by children may have contributed to improved communication within the family.

Nevertheless, two out of three parents were concerned about exposing their children to harmful internet content, while over 50% feared that their children were being bullied online. Many parents also described problems such as addiction to internet use and cyberbullying. About 50% of parents were also worried that internet use could affect the physical, cognitive, and social development of their children.

About 22% of parents reported concern over internet addiction, which outnumbered those disturbed about substance addiction by a factor of two. Over 33% did not consider either a matter of concern, with another 33% considering it with equal concern.

About 66% of parents thought that service providers and those who supply the technology should take more care to regulate internet use and what appears online. In contrast, about 50% thought the government should be involved.

About 33% of parents reported that social media, and especially Facebook, presented the highest internet addiction risk. Comparatively, about 10% of parents reported concerns that video games like Fortnite, Roblox, and Grand Theft Auto were at the most significant risk for causing internet addiction.

Adolescent internet addiction scores were closely correlated with those of their parents, even after adjustments for confounding factors. Parents who frequently use immersive environments and consider them to be beneficial may attract their children to addictive internet use, especially as most parents did not think this a cause of concern.

The use of immersive environments like virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) programs by children for three or more hours a day or by parents at any level was associated with a higher risk of internet addiction. A similar risk of internet addiction was reported among parents and children who frequently utilized video streaming services.

Internet addiction scores among parents were higher in immersive environment use. However, this also had a positive impact on the family at all levels of use, from less than one hour to over six hours daily. The family impact was also more significant if children used social media at any level.

What are the implications?

While parents gave credit to their children for using the internet to improve family connections, many were concerned about possible signs of internet addiction. The two factors most closely associated with an increased risk of internet addiction were poor parenting, in terms of inconsistent discipline, and internet use by the parent.

Our focus on familial factors highlights the importance of the family unit in interpreting correlates of internet use, as well as the role of the family in modifying negative use and prevention of harmful use and addiction.”

As such, families should consider both the benefits and risks of internet use while discussing rules with their children. These conversations will ensure the contribution of internet use to family connectedness is appreciated and improved while also allowing for the monitoring of its potential risks. The internet industry and the government should also be involved in its regulation to retain its benefits while reducing its dangers.  

The findings corroborate earlier research reporting a strong relationship between excessive or problematic internet use by parents and their children, even after adjusting for poor parenting. Further research is needed to examine this key correlation, as it provides a foundation for possible intervention strategies.

Journal reference:
  • Kimball, H. G., Fernandez, F., Moskowitz, K. A., et al. (2023). Parent-perceived benefits and harms associated with internet use by adolescent offspring. JAMA Network Opendoi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.39851.
Dr. Liji Thomas

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Dr. Liji Thomas

Dr. Liji Thomas is an OB-GYN, who graduated from the Government Medical College, University of Calicut, Kerala, in 2001. Liji practiced as a full-time consultant in obstetrics/gynecology in a private hospital for a few years following her graduation. She has counseled hundreds of patients facing issues from pregnancy-related problems and infertility, and has been in charge of over 2,000 deliveries, striving always to achieve a normal delivery rather than operative.

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