Internet Abuse among Teenagers and Its Relations to Internet Usage Patterns and Demographics

Article excerpt

Introduction

Internet access and usage in the world has been proliferating year by year, with approximately 1.11 billion users in 2007, 1.67 billion in 2009, and 1.97 billion in 2010 (Miniwatts Marketing Group, 2010), indicating an upward trend in the number of digitally literate people. Such a rapid growth has been interacted with people's needs and motivation. Information, communication, and entertainment have been prominent motives behind the Internet use. The advantages of the Internet are undeniable and well-evidenced in the literature. Nevertheless, excessive or unregulated usage has been associated with a condition of Internet-related disturbances which Morahan-Martin (2008) calls "Internet abuse" referring to the "patterns of using the Internet that result in disturbances in a person's life but does not imply a specific disease process or addictive behavior" (p. 34). Some scholars or clinicians prefer to use the term "Internet addiction" to define this condition as a form of impulse control disorder (e.g., Young, 1998). Despite various approaches to the conceptualization of the condition, which is still developing and negotiated in ongoing research, studies acknowledged its existence and reported similar symptoms: school and work-related impairments, interpersonal problems, preoccupation with using the Internet, using the Internet to improve negative moods, and serious disturbances in users' social capitals (Morahan-Martin, 2008). The present study adopted the concept of Internet abuse because it examined the condition in a non-pathological population and operationalized the Internet behavior as a continuum from normal to problematic usage.

Nowadays, the adoption of digital technologies is known to be higher in young adolescents than adults. For example, the highest proportion of computer and Internet usage belongs to the 16-24 year old age group in Turkey (TUIK, 2010), where Internet users aged 15 and older were reported as the most engaged users in Europe in terms of time spent and the content consumed on the Internet (comScore, 2009). Being the mainstream consumers and drivers of digital contents, youngsters are at the center of a lucrative digital marketing enterprise. New products are designed essentially for appealing to emotions, habits, and values in youth culture (Montgomery, Gottlieb-Robles & Larson, 2004). This in turn makes young people early adopters and heavy users of digital technologies. Such an involvement, coupled with the psychologically sensitive developments of adolescence period, can make teenagers more susceptible to digital disturbances such as Internet abuse (Chou, Condron & Belland, 2005; Tsai & Lin, 2003). Therefore, empirical investigations of factors in problematic Internet use among teenagers have been called for to help parents, teachers, and counselors in guiding teenagers about the conscious and beneficial effects of Internet use. This study attempted to contribute to this call by exploring possible interactions between Turkish high school students' status of Internet abuse, Internet usage patterns, and demographic characteristics.

Although prior research on overall analysis of Internet abuse is prolific, the research on socio-demographic differences in this field is rather sparse or inconclusive. Gender is one of the predominantly investigated variables seen in the literature. While some studies indicated no gender differences in Internet abuse (e.g., Ferraro, Caci, D'amico & Blasi, 2007; Lee et al., 2007; Soule, Shall & Kleen, 2003), others revealed that males were more likely to become Internet abusers than females (e.g., Chou et al., 2005; Morahan-Martin & Schumacher, 2000; Yang & Tung, 2007). Although socio-economic status (SES) is an important factor especially in the developing countries, where digital divide still exists to some degree, not much attention has been devoted to this demographic variable. Only a few studies concluded that SES was not significantly associated with Internet abuse (e. …

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