The Relationship of Internet Use to Depression and Social Isolation among Adolescents

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The present study investigated whether higher levels of Internet use are associated with depression and social isolation among adolescents. Eighty-nine high school seniors were administered a questionnaire that measured low (less than 1 hour per day), moderate (1-2 hours per day), and high (more than 2 hours per day) Internet use; relationships with mother, father, and peers; and depression. Low Internet users, as compared with high users, reported better relationships with their mothers and friends.

The impact of Internet use and abuse is increasingly being investigated (Young & Rogers, 1998; Kraut et al., 1998), and social scientists are beginning to address related issues (Stokols, 1999; Morahan-Martin, 1998; Young, 1999). Recently, an online survey examined scores on the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) and Internet addiction (Young & Rogers, 1998). Participants were self-selected, having accessed a Web site with either of two keywords, Internet or addiction. Internet addiction was determined using a modified version of the DSM-IV profile for gambling addiction. The mean BDI score of respondents identified as addicted (11.2) fell within the mild to moderate range.

In a two-year longitudinal study (Kraut et al., 1998), randomly selected families were given computers and instruction on Internet use. After 1 to 2 years, increased use of the Internet was associated with decreased family communication and reduced size of local social circle. In addition, the participants experienced increased loneliness and depression. Increases in loneliness and decreases in social support were particularly pronounced for the youth. The latter finding highlights the importance of studying Internet use among adolescents, particularly since it is increasing dramatically among this age group.

In 1996, nearly 12% of 13- to 17-year-olds (who had access) used Internet services. Internet use by those between the ages of 2 and 17, which was 6.5% in 1996, is projected to rise to 31.4% in 2002, with over half of 13- to 17-year-olds expected to be actively using Internet services (Cravatta, 1997).

The purpose of the present study was to examine the possible effects of Internet use among adolescents. A high level of Internet use was expected to be related to less optimal ratings on both relationship and depression scales.

METHOD

Participants

Eighty-nine seniors (37 males and 52 females) were recruited from a suburban Florida high school; 76% were Caucasian, 11% Hispanic, 5% Asian, 3% African American, and 5% other. The socioeconomic status of the participating students was, on average, middle to upper middle class (M = 3.9 on the Hollingshead Two Factor Index).

Measures

Students were administered a 181-item Likert-type questionnaire that examined multiple behavioral and psychological aspects of adolescent life. They completed the questionnaire anonymously, within a 45minute time frame, in a large assembly room.

Internet use. The level of Internet use was assessed with the single question, "How many hours per day do you spend on the Internet?" Response choices were less than 1 (low use), 1 to 2 (moderate use), and more than 2 (high use).

Quality of relationships with parents/friends. The Intimacy Scale (Blyth & Foster-Clark, 1987), which contains 24 questions, was used to measure relationship quality. For example: "How much do you go to your mother for advice/support?" and "How much does your best friend accept you no matter what you do?" Responses are made on a 5-point Likert scale, ranging from not at all to very much. The questions are similar for best friend and both parents (8 questions each), yielding subscale scores for relationship with mother, relationship with father, and relationship with peers.

Depression. Depression was measured using the Center for Epidemiological Studies-Depression Scale (CES-D; Radloff, 1977), with a cutoff score of 16 indicating depression. …