Fitzpatrick C, Lemieux A, Smith J, West GL, Bohbot V, Asbridge M. (2023). Is adolescent internet use a risk factor for the development of depression symptoms or vice-versa?. Psychological Medicine. 1-7.
The extent to which digital media use by adolescents contributes to poor mental health, or vice-versa, remains unclear. The purpose of the present study is to clarify the strength and direction of associations between adolescent internet use and the development of depression symptoms using a longitudinal modeling approach. We also examine whether associations differ for boys and girls.
Data are drawn from (N = 1547) participants followed for the Quebec longitudinal Study of Child Development (QLSCD 1998–2020). Youth self-reported internet use in terms of the average hours of use per week at the ages of 13, 15, and 17. Youth also self-reported depression symptoms at the same ages.
After testing sex-invariance, random intercepts cross-lagged panel models stratified by sex, revealed that internet use by girls was associated with significant within-person (time-varying) change in depression symptoms. Girl’s internet use at age 13 was associated with increased depression symptoms at age 15 (ß = 0.12) and internet use at age 15 increased depression at age 17 (ß = 0.10). For boys, internet use was not associated with significant time varying change in depression symptoms.
The present findings support the hypothesis that internet use by adolescents can represent a significant risk factor for the development of depressive symptoms, particularly in girls.