Study in Finland shows link between school burnout and excessive internet use

When I first read the title of the press release, some alarm bells started ringing. First: the concept of school burnout seemed invented, but a search proved me wrong. Still, it’s kind of a relatively “newish” concept. Secondly: internet addiction is often used as concept, but too often without a real – read clinical – diagnosis. I was correct, the study didn’t mention addiction, but is talking about excessive internet usage. The study is based on data garthered during Mind the Gap, a longitudinal research project funded by the Academy of Finland. The researchers established a link between digital addiction and school burnout in both comprehensive school and upper secondary school students. The results of the Finnish study were published in May 2016 in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

From the press release:

The findings show that via school burnout, adolescents’ excessive internet use can ultimately lead to depression. Exposure to digital addiction is most likely to happen if the adolescent loses interest in school and feels cynicism towards school.

Fostering enthusiasm for learning is paramount

The research suggests that the most critical stage for tackling the problem of digital addiction and school burnout is age 13-15. The most effective way of supporting adolescents’ mental health and preventing excessive internet use is to promote school engagement, to build up students’ motivation to learn, and to prevent school burnout.

Depressive symptoms and school burnout in late adolescence are more common among girls than boys. Boys suffer more from excessive Internet use than girls.

The study was carried out among Helsinki adolescents aged 12-14 and 16-18. The former group of early adolescents consisted of lower-school 6th graders born in 2000. The late adolescents were first-year upper secondary school students born in 1997. In all more than 3,000 Helsinki adolescents from 33 lower schools and 18 upper secondary schools took part. The Academy-funded project is the first longitudinal study exploring the reciprocal associations between excessive internet use, school engagement, school burnout and depression among adolescents. Today’s young people are described as ‘digital natives’: they are the first generation who have grown up with mobile devices and social media.

The digital transformation has two facets. On the one hand, earlier research has shown that the internet provides important and pleasurable social experiences that are useful in later studies and eventually in the workplace. The pedagogical use of digital technology can also engage and inspire young people to take an interest in science and technology. On the other hand, digital addiction can also cause burnout in adolescents and even lead to depression.

Abstract of the study:

Recent research shows an increased concern with well-being at school and potential problems associated with students’ use of socio-digital technologies, i.e., the mobile devices, computers, social media, and the Internet. Simultaneously with supporting creative social activities, socio-digital participation may also lead to compulsive and addictive behavioral patterns affecting both general and school-related mental health problems. Using two longitudinal data waves gathered among 1702 (53 % female) early (age 12–14) and 1636 (64 % female) late (age 16–18) Finnish adolescents, we examined cross-lagged paths between excessive internet use, school engagement and burnout, and depressive symptoms. Structural equation modeling revealed reciprocal cross-lagged paths between excessive internet use and school burnout among both adolescent groups: school burnout predicted later excessive internet use and excessive internet use predicted later school burnout. Reciprocal paths between school burnout and depressive symptoms were also found. Girls typically suffered more than boys from depressive symptoms and, in late adolescence, school burnout. Boys, in turn, more typically suffered from excessive internet use. These results show that, among adolescents, excessive internet use can be a cause of school burnout that can later spill over to depressive symptoms.

 

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