More than two daily hours in the internet increases children’s conduct disorders

Submitted on Thu, 03/17/2016 - 11:31

Especially impulsive and destructive behaviour is common among children in primary school age who spend more than two hours in the internet daily.

This is the result of a research currently conducted at the University of Tampere, which investigates the association between internet use among children in primary school and their social skills as estimated by the children themselves.

The data for the doctoral research was gathered among pupils in grades 4–6 in five primary schools in the Kanta-Häme region in Finland. The survey was answered by 92 per cent of 312 pupils. The children assessed their own internet use with the surveys of the Game Skill project of the Finnish Association for Substance Abuse Prevention and Children’s Media Barometer. The children also used the Multisource Assessment of Social Competence survey to estimate their social skills, feelings of empathy, disruptive behaviour and impulse control.

The results show that pupils who use the internet daily are statistically significantly more impulsive than pupils who use the internet more rarely than every week. Students who use the internet for 1–2 hours during weekdays and weekends have statistically significantly better cooperation skills than pupils who use the internet for more hours every day.

Pupils who use the internet during weekends for 1–2 hours per day are statistically significantly more empathetic than pupils who spend more time in the internet (5–6 hours or more). Correspondingly, pupils who spend several hours (5–7 hours or more) in the internet were significantly more disruptive and impulsive than students who spend less time in the internet.

There is little research on the association between children’s internet use and empathy skills and their ability to interact in different social situations.

“Cooperation skills and the ability to feel empathy are emphasised in those primary school age children who spend less than two hours a day in the internet. Correspondingly, excessive time spent in the internet, which is against all recommendations, increases antisocial behaviour,” says doctoral researcher Anne Riihilahti.

According to the recommendation of the National Institute for Health and Welfare, children should engage with entertainment media for two hours per day at the most.

Children’s internet use clearly increases and gets more versatile as their schooling continues. Boys in the sixth grade spend time in the internet during weekdays and girls during weekends. Primary school age children go to the internet to meet new people. They think that spending time in the internet is an easy and ordinary way of spending time.

“Increasing children’s media literacy and supporting their social skills requires cooperation between the family, school and school health care,” says Riihilahti.

“Children’s loneliness and social exclusion can be prevented by guiding the children in safe internet use and by teaching them proper media literacy skills,” Riihilahti points out.

For more information, please contact: Doctoral researcher Anne Riihilahti, riihilahti.anne.m@student.uta.fi