Almost half of all 14- and 15-year-olds feel they are addicted to the internet, with more than three-quarters of similarly aged pupils taking a web-enabled laptop, phone or tablet to bed at night, according to a survey.
Of those who take a device to bed, the bulk are communicating with friends using social media or watching videos or films, the study of more than 2,200 students in nine schools across England and Scotland found. More than four out 10 girls felt they used the internet on a compulsive basis for socialising, the survey found.
The poll was carried out on behalf of Tablets for Schools, a charity led by technology industry groups such as Carphone Warehouse and Dixons that campaigns for the increased use of iPad-like devices in education. Despite its remit the group has now published an advice guide for pupils and schools about internet devices, advising they be switched off before bed and during study times, with set times allocated for online activity.
The study said fewer than a third of students who used web devices in bed said this was connected to homework, with those more likely to use a computer, phone or laptop in bed also more likely to report feeling addicted to the internet. There were some gender distinctions, with 46% of girls saying they sometimes felt addicted to the internet, as against 36% of boys, but significantly more boys saying they felt a compulsion towards computer games.
The peak age for feelings of addiction was year 10, where pupils are aged 14 or 15, with 49% of those pupils reporting this. The greatest use of devices in bed comes a year later, with 77% of year-11 pupils. Aside from email the most commonly used sites at home were social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat.
While most students told researchers they were positive about the internet, a number expressed alarm at their apparent inability to disengage. “It’s the first thing I look at in the morning and the last thing at night. It seems I’m constantly on it,” a year-10 boy said. Another boy, a year older, said: “When I’m on YouTube one video leads to another and I cannot stop myself from watching loads of videos and sometimes I’m up till about 2 o’clock in the morning just because I’ve been watching YouTube videos.”
The issue of internet addiction is much debated, with some researchers questioning whether it can be classified as a formal addiction. There is evidence that British children spend more time online than many of their European peers. A 2012 EU-wide study of children aged 11-16 by the London School of Economics found the UK was among the worst nations for indicators of apparently excessive internet use, with more than a quarter saying they spent less time with family, friends or on schoolwork because of being on the web.