A study by the Madrid city health agency and UCJC reveals that only a third of adolescents in Madrid make proper use of the Internet

The Chair for Social Development of University Camilo José Cela (UCJC) and the Madrid City Health Agency today presented the study entitled ‘Use and abuse of Information and Communication Technologies by adolescents. A representative study of the city of Madrid’ which reveals a high prevalence of problems associated with the use of ICTs among adolescents attending school.

The study used MULTICAGE-TIC applied to a sample of 2,341 year 4 ESO students (15 and 16 years old) from public, private and public-private schools in the city of Madrid. This is the first study that analyses a representative sample -with low error thresholds- of adolescents in school in a large western city with the aim of exploring the use and abuse of ICTs and its relationship with mental health indicators.

The results point to a high prevalence of problems associated with the excessive use of ICTs among adolescents aged 15 and 16. According to the study, only 32% of adolescents use the Internet correctly, while 31.5% show signs of risk behaviour, 23.3% display excessive use and 13.2% show a clear behavioural dependence on the Internet. In short, more than one third of the sample has developed a problematic use of the Internet and almost another third is at risk of developing it.

The study reveals that over half of adolescents use their mobile phones excessively: 28.4% are at risk of doing so, 21% show excessive use and 8% show dependence on their smartphone.

Regarding the use of WhatsApp, 43.5% of adolescents show problematic behaviour. Specifically, 21% are at risk, 14.5% use it excessively and 8% show dependency. The study warns that the fact that almost half of the sample of adolescents present, to a greater or lesser degree, a problematic use of these applications can establish patterns that persist over time. These behaviours have a direct relationship with indicators related to low levels of academic performance.

Regarding social media, almost 40% of adolescents from Madrid showed a problematic use, with 19% showing risk behaviour, 13% excessive use and 7% dependency. In the case of video games, 24% of the sample showed risk behaviour, 12.5% excessive use and 5.7% dependency.

The study evidences differences between boys and girls, since adolescent girls score higher for excessive use and dependence much more frequently than the boys in all problem behaviour except in video games. The scale of the difference is very considerable, particularly in the use of instant messaging apps and social media.

Over 90% of participants use WhatsApp (96% of girls and 92% of boys). The second most used application by young people is YouTube, with 90% of the sample and no major differences between the sexes. Instagram, in third place, is used by 87% of girls and significantly less by boys, 74%. Snapchat is used more by girls (71%) than boys (41%). Over 40% use Spotify and less than a third of the sample uses Skype. Facebook and Twitter do not show significant use by teenagers.

Problematic use of ICT and mental health

The study concludes that, the greater the degree of problematic use of ICTs, the greater the risk of poor mental health. The increase in problems associated with the use and abuse of ICTs contributes to greater loss of control over behaviour.

Adolescent brains tend to be more immature and therefore more vulnerable to losing control over behaviour. However, these factors only explain a small part of ICT abuse, since some variables were not studied such as peer pressure, cultural factors or fashions.

Five percent of teenagers say they play very frequently on sports betting websites and almost 12% have done so on occasion. This problem is mostly seen in adolescent boys.  Four percent of adolescents say they secure permission from their parents when they spend money online and 15% say they do it without their consent.