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 Table of Contents  
ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Year : 2017  |  Volume : 33  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 297-304

Internet use among adolescents: Risk-taking behavior, parental supervision, and implications for safety


1 Department of Social Work, School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Central University of Karnataka, Kadaganchi, Gulbarga, India
2 Department of Psychiatric Social Work, National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences, Bangalore, Karnataka, India
3 Faculty of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Flinders University, Adelaide, SA, Australia

Date of Web Publication17-Nov-2017

Correspondence Address:
Govidnappa Lakshmana
Department of Social Work, School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Central University of Karnataka, Kadaganchil, Aland Road, Kalaburagi, Karnataka
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/0971-9962.218603

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  Abstract 

Background: Internet communication applications have become an important social context for the development of adolescents. The use of Internet is leading to many risk-taking behaviors also. Material and Methods: This study assessed the risk-taking behaviors and related problems among adolescents while using the internet and parental supervision on it. The study followed descriptive cross-sectional research design and the data was collected from 179 school going adolescents through semi-structured interview schedule. Results: About 60% of the respondents belonged to male (M = 14.5, SD = 1.2 years), mean time spent on internet use in the previous week was 6 hours, 41% access to computers at home, and 28% had arguments with their care givers due to their pattern of usage of internet. There was a significant difference in emotional (t = 3.127, df = 177, P < 0.01) and personal level risk-taking domains (t = 3.037, df = 177, P < 0.01) between male and female respondents, indicating boys were taking more risks than girls. High emotional problems among 8th grade students (M = 1.63, ±1.87) was noted. Significant difference was observed between the number of hours spent on online in a week and arguments with parents (t = 2.517, df = 177, P < 0.05). There was also significant difference in emotional problems (F = 3.212, P < 0.05) and sex-related risk (F = 4.735, P < 0.05) domains between parental filtering and non-filtering group (F = 3.212, P < 0.05). Conclusion: Results clearly indicate that there is an evidence of risk-taking behaviors among adolescents those who were in lack of parental supervision. Hence, there is an urgent need to educate parents, teachers, and address this issue on a greater scale including at the policy level.

Keywords: Adolescents, Internet use, risk-taking behavior, online games


How to cite this article:
Lakshmana G, Kasi S, Rehmatulla M. Internet use among adolescents: Risk-taking behavior, parental supervision, and implications for safety. Indian J Soc Psychiatry 2017;33:297-304

How to cite this URL:
Lakshmana G, Kasi S, Rehmatulla M. Internet use among adolescents: Risk-taking behavior, parental supervision, and implications for safety. Indian J Soc Psychiatry [serial online] 2017 [cited 2017 Dec 12];33:297-304. Available from: http://www.indjsp.org/text.asp?2017/33/4/297/218603


  Introduction Top


In the present era, Internet has become an important medium for education, communication, information sharing, and personal growth of every individual including adolescents. Especially, among adolescents, Internet communication applications have become an important social context for their development. But along with its uses, it is also leading to many risk-taking behaviors among adolescents.

The term adolescent has a broader meaning. It includes mental, emotional, and social maturity as well as physical maturity. According to Peterson [1] adolescence starts from the age of 12-18 years, or from completion of primary school up to graduation level. In this study, adolescents are defined from 12 to 18 years age group. Many biological changes take place during the adolescent years. Physical changes such as increase in height, weight, body proportions, and the development of secondary sexual characteristics are common. Along with these physical changes wide spectrum of endocrine changes (gonadarche and adrenarche), including hormones that affect gonadal maturation and the production of gonadal sex steroids also takes place. The growth spurt during early and mid-adolescence is regulated by the complex, inter-related production of a number of hormones.[2] Traditionally, adolescence has been thought of as a period of “storm and stress”-a time of heightened emotional tension resulting from the physical and glandular changes that are taking place. As they grow older, they learn to handle them. One of the most difficult developmental tasks of adolescence is social adjustment. These adjustments must be made with the members of the opposite sex in a relationship that never existed before and to adults outside the family and school environment. To achieve the goal of adult patterns of socialization, the adolescent must make many new adjustments, most important of which are those of the increased influence of the peer group, changes in social behavior, new social groupings, new values in friendship selection, new values in social acceptance and rejection, and new values in the selection of leaders.

They also seek greater independence and responsibility at this stage. They increasingly want to assert more autonomy over their decisions, emotions and actions, and to disengage from parental control.[3] Their social and cultural environment significantly affects how adolescents express this desire for autonomy.

The external influences, which differ among cultures and societies, including social values and norms and the changing roles, responsibilities, relationships and expectations of this period of life, affect adolescents in their immediate environment of family, school, and community but reflect a range of wider societal changes, including increasing urbanization, globalization, and access to digital media and social networks.[4]

Due to these changes, adolescents need close supervision, support from teachers, parents, and other important persons.[5] If the above issues are not addressed, then this would lead to various problems among adolescents and they might affect the healthy transition of the adolescents to adulthood.

Internet has developed dramatically and its use has spread to all the fields and age groups. Adolescents are not exceptional from the use of Internet. The rapid growth of Internet communication and its potential to change the way one could communicate and gather information has brought both positive and negative impact. So the positive impact of internet uses involve any information reaching very fast to any part of the world; individuals from worldwide could communicate without distinctions of nationality, race, gender, class; variety of information is available on the internet helps other fields' research effectively. On the negative side, one can access all kinds of information including self-distraction, faulty socialization, risk-taking behaviors, loneliness, etc.[6],[7],[8] Risks in the Internet has been defined as “one goes beyond the normal use of the Internet and takes risk which may threaten one's personal growth, safety and interpersonal relationships.” There is no doubt that the growing popularity of Internet communication applications among adolescents has become an important social context for their development. Though wealth of information is available on the Internet, the misuse of this is becoming more evident among adolescents. Studies report that adolescents access pornography, hate and terrorism related sites, and they are vulnerable to sexual solicitation and predation, cyber-bullying, and harassment. In recent times, studies have reported pathological use or Internet addiction among adults and adolescents.[7],[9]

Studies report that younger generation is having more acquaintance than their parents. Due to the changes taking place in the digital communication, there is a new type of culture emerging among adolescents. The parents and teachers are having difficulty to inculcate family values and culture among their wards. The technology is posing greater challenge to it. As mentioned earlier, internet has been used by adolescents for various purposes, including sexual activities.

A number of studies report that internet use will have an impact on adolescent's sexual activities. A study reported that a significantly larger number of boys having unmonitored internet access are also engaged in sexual activity, while no such association was found among girls.[10] Another study reported that it is common for adolescents to get inadvertently exposed to sexual contact on using internet especially while surfing the net, or on opening e-mails or clicking on links in e-mail and most of these occur while surfing at home.[11] Brown reported that adolescents who frequently watch sexual content and have fewer alternative sources of sexual norms such as parents and friends, get easily influenced by them and are encouraged to indulge in sexual activity as they consider it to be the social norm.[12]

Exposure to sexually implicit content on the internet is likely to lead to early initiation of sexual activity among adolescents,[13] which may influence their academic performance greatly. According to Collins those exposed to sexual content on television are more permissive toward premarital sex.[14]

Studies have shown that when parents monitor/supervise and discuss such matters with their adolescent children it is likely that they get less influenced by media,[13],[14] though not many Indian parents do so. The study reports that only a limited number of parents discuss sexual matters with their children.[10]

Parents, teachers, and other significant people are worried due to the misuse of Internet by their children. Results also indicated the possibilities of parents who were not sophisticated in the use of Internet compared to their children, might experience complex situations.[15],[16],[17] Looking at this, there is a need to study the risk-taking behaviors and related problems among adolescents in the internet use and parental supervision on it. Since both the parents work in urban areas, there is lack of supervision or no supervision on children activities. In this study, parental supervision has been defined as monitoring and guiding the children in right direction in the use of internet for various purposes. This study made an attempt to study the risk-taking behaviors and related problems among adolescents in the Internet use and parental supervision and safety.

Though studies have been conducted on internet use among adolescents, some of the variables such as the purpose of internet use, duration of internet use, parental supervision, risk-taking behaviors, sex-related risks, gambling, impact on education, etc. need to be explored periodically. Hence, this study has been taken up.


  Material and Methods Top


The aim of the study was to assess the risk-taking behaviors among adolescents in the Internet usage. The objectives of the study were to study the Internet usage, risk-taking behaviors, parental supervision, and safety among adolescents while using internet. The study followed descriptive cross sectional research design to describe the study variables. Based on the review of literature and discussions with experienced researchers on Internet use, a tool was formulated. The developed instrument was given to subject experts for validation. Based on the suggestions, the tool was modified and used in the study. The finalized tool had two parts: part demographic details and few items on internet use, parental supervision, and second part had 58 items and 5 domains i.e., emotional problems due to the use of computer and internet (10 items), Risk-taking behavior while chatting (10 items), personal level risk taking (13 items), sex-related risk (12 items), and gambling-related risk (13 items). Each item had Yes or No options. The right answers were given one marks and wrong zero. The domain scores were calculated summing up the right answers. The main purpose of this tool was to assess the risk-taking behavior among adolescents and parental supervision on them. The validated tool was pilot tested and based on the findings, necessary modifications had been done. The study area was five English-medium schools from West Bangalore, India. From each school, 45 respondents were selected using random sampling technique (15 students each from 8th, 9th, and 11th grades). Permission for data collection had been obtained from the school authorities and the subjects were explained about the study and informed assent form had been obtained. Those who were willing to participate in the study had been handed over the questionnaire (225 samples), and collected after 1 h. The study was carried out during the regular school timings and not during examination. Total 179 questionnaires were completed in all aspects. About 46 questionnaires were not filled properly. Hence, they were excluded from the analysis. The obtained data was analyzed using SPSS version 17.


  Results Top


Background of the adolescents

Gender distribution of the respondents shows that the majority of the respondents (60%) belongs to male (M = 14.5, SD = ± 1.2 years). Mean age at start of using the computer was 10 years (± 2.3), mean time spent for internet use in the previous week was 6 (± 34) hours, males used to spend 7.1 (± 7) hours and females 4 (± 4.4) hours per week (Range = 0-34 hours). There was a significant difference between male and females in the number of hours spent in a week (P < 0.05).

Usage of the computers

With regard to playing online games, majority (35%) of the respondents ranked it as their choice, 29% reported internet usage for academic purpose as second choice, 26% reported sending e-mails as third choice, and sending the instant messages was the fourth choice (18%). One third (41%) of the respondents used to access the computer at home, 29% at internet browsing centres, and 27% at multiple places. About 20% of the parents were blocking or restricting their children from accessing certain sites and 22% internet providers were doing the same. Majority (70%) of the respondents' parents or teachers rarely or never guide them on online surfing. One fifth (21%) of the respondents had arguments with their care givers due to their pattern of usage of computers, half (51%) of the respondents had normal relationship with parents, while 36% had cordial relationship, and 13% had disputed relationship.

Majority of the (63%) respondents agreed that they play online games. Pattern of online games played by user shows that 60% of the respondents were casual players and 40% were regular players of online games. Equal number of respondents (8%) claimed that they were surprised to find that someone revealed their personal information such as name, contact details, etc. with members of the chat room and that they personally met a person whom they had met through online. About 4% reported that they were requested to engage in sexual activities/talk by an adult, 11% got to know a teenager through online and made contact with him/her by mail/telephone/in person, 8% got to know an adult through online and made contact with him/her by mail/telephone/in person, and 7% received sexually revealing images through links appearing in the chat rooms.

More than one third (38%) claimed that they had come across nudity and sexual images when they browse through the Internet, 9% felt that they were induced by websites consisting of nudity and sexual images to log-in again by offering incentives/free images/membership. About 8% of the respondents visited such kind of websites very often, 3% enrolled themselves as online members of one or more of the websites consisting of materials which were nude and sexual in nature, 7% thought that their sexual activities in real life had been influenced and 14% claimed that they got offended by frequent exposure to websites such as pornography.

About 6% claimed that they were regular visitors of websites which promote games such as lottery, casinos, etc. and 19% were casual visitors. About 3% lost money through online gambling and they borrowed money from friends/relatives/others. About 3% consider themselves as being addicted and 6% suspected to be addicted to online gambling, and 3% sought professional help. Most of them sought psychiatric consultations, counseling, and teacher's help for internet-related problems.

About 12% of the respondents were visiting the websites offering instruction/software to crack into other's websites, 8% were visiting the websites encouraging teenagers to damage properties, 7% were visiting the websites prohibited by the government e.g., websites of group/organizations classified as terrorist organizations, 3% were visiting the websites giving instructions to make weapons such as homemade bombs, and 10% felt that they were visiting the websites encouraging young people to engage in anti-social activities.

The reasons which made the teenagers to develop interest in online gambling activities shows that an e-mail announcing that the respondent was a winner of a lottery (5%), a web link accidentally clicked (12%), inducements offered by companies about online games (2.2%), advertisements by gaming companies (12%), ever present online game links whenever they log in online (2.8%), and comfort of playing games online wherever they wanted (13.4%) were the major reasons. About 18% received a stranger's picture via online, 8% strongly agreed that they sent their photos to strangers, 33% placed their personal details online in websites such as Facebook, MySpace etc., and 13% sent threatening e-mails and 27% received a stranger's picture via online.

Based on the nature of the problems, indexes were created and analyzed. There were five domains i.e., emotional problems due to the usage of computers and internet, risk-taking behaviors while chatting, personal level risks (such as meeting unknown persons personally, sharing personal details, etc.), sex-related risks and gambling activities. To analyze the gender differences in various domains of risk-taking behavior, Independent Sample “t” test [Table 1] was used. It shows that in emotional (t = 3.127, df = 177, P < 0.01) and personal level risk-taking domains (t = 3.037, df = 177, P < 0.01), there was a significant difference between two groups indicating males were taking more risks than girls. Here many of them met strangers personally.
Table 1: Gender differences in various domains of risk-taking behaviors

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To find out whether there was a significant difference among various grades and domains of risk taking of the respondents, one way ANOVA was computed [Table 2]. Results show that high-emotional problems among 8th grade students (M = 1.63, ± 1.87) were noted, whereas low emotional problems were noted among the other groups. The F value (10.185, P < 0.000) was found to be significant. Hence, the educational difference is significant in emotional problems. The higher class students were emotionally matured enough to think and act and balance the studies and other activities, whereas lower class students were not. The results revealed that grades did not significantly differ with variables like risk-taking behavior while chatting, personal level risk taking, sex-related risks, and gambling activities (P > 0.05). This perhaps indicates that these domains of risk taking and grades were not related to each other.
Table 2: Differences among various grades and risk taking

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One way ANOVA was computed to see the significant difference between parental filtering on internet access and risk-taking behaviors in various domains [Table 3]. It shows that there was a significant difference in emotional problems (F = 3.212, P < 0.05) and sex-related risk (F = 4.735, P < 0.05) domains between parental filtering and non-filtering group (F = 3.212, P < 0.05). Hence, it is concluded that wherever parental filtering was present, children were not taking more risks.
Table 3: Differences among parental filtering on internet access and risk-taking behavior in various domains

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Independent sample “t” test [Table 4] shows that there was a significant difference between arguments with parents and number of hours spent on online in a week (t = 2.517, df = 177, P < 0.05). Hence, it is concluded that the more the time adolescents spent in online activities, the more disputed relationship will be with the parents. One way ANOVA test revealed that place of computer use and internet access did not significantly differ with variables like risk-taking behaviors while chatting, personal level risks, sex-related risks, and gambling activities (P > 0.05). This perhaps indicates that the domains of risk taking and place of access were not related to each other.
Table 4: Total number of hours spent on online in a week and arguments with parents

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Pearson's correlation [Table 5] was computed to find the relationship between variables. Significant negative correlation exists (P < 0.05) between age of the respondents and emotional problems, age of start of using the computers and playing online games. There was a significant relationship between the total number of hours spent during the previous week in online and playing online games, money spent on online, for shopping, personal level risk taking and gambling activities. It is clear that more the number of hours spent on online, higher is the risk-taking behaviors. There was a significant relationship between total number of hours spent playing online games and money spent on online shopping, emotional problems, personal risk-taking behavior, and gambling activities. There was a significant relationship between emotional problems faced and risk taking while chatting, personal risks, and gambling activities. Results show that there was a relationship between risk-taking behaviors while chatting and personal risks.
Table 5: Inter-correlation matrix showing relationship between various variables

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  Discussion Top


In this study majority of the respondents who use Internet (60%) were males which is being supported by other studies.[6],[15] One important observation is that over the years, the gender gap is reducing significantly. In this study, the maximum number of hours spent by the respondents was 34 hours a week for various purposes that explains the level of dependency on Internet as discussed by other studies.[17],[18],[19] Majority of the respondents were browsing the Internet for online games rather than for academic purposes. One third (33%) of the respondents placed their personal details in websites such as Facebook, MySpace, etc., which was explained and supported by similar studies.[15],[16],[19] Though, majority (41%) of the respondents access the computers at home, about two third (67%) had no proper guidance in using the Internet that would increase the risk-taking behaviors of the adolescents. Studies report that alienation positively predicted Pathological Internet Use (PIU) directly and also indirectly mediated by leisure services preference.[6],[16] Majority of the respondents used to play online games and had the risk of coming across the sites such as nudity and sexual images. This clearly shows that in the absence of proper guidance the adolescents are prone to involve in risk-taking behaviors in the Internet use. There is a need to monitor adolescents' Internet activities and provide proper guidance. There should be free discussion among adolescents, parents, and teachers on the usage of Internet including sexual activities. Studies report that lack of adult supervision leads to misuse of internet among adolescents and involve in self-distraction attitudes in the internet.[10],12],[13],[14]

The results show that in emotional and personal level risk-taking domains there was a significant difference between males and females. Descriptive statistical data shows that generally boys had difficulty in controlling anger and had lot of problems with parents. Many boys had given their personal phone numbers and even met unknown persons. Few girls also reported that they also met strangers personally and provided contact details and established contact through online. This is a very dangerous behavior as the chances of misuse would be there. Studies reported that adolescents take risks in meeting unknown persons and sharing details without knowing more about the identity of other person.[17],[20] A study reported that those with excessive use of Internet had high scores on anxiety and depression domains. Further the study reports that addiction was more common in males than females.[16]

Results show that high emotional problems among 8th grade students (M = 1.63, ± 1.87) was noted than the other groups. The higher class students are emotionally matured enough to think and act and balance the studies and other activities, whereas lower class students are not. Studies clearly show that lesser the age of the respondents, higher the chances of emotional problems.[17]

Parental filtering or monitoring plays an important role in controlling adolescents risk-taking behavior. The result clearly shows that there was a significant difference between parental filtering on internet access and risk-taking behavior among adolescents in various domains. Non-filtering group had more emotional problems and sex-related risk taking behaviors than filtering group (P < 0.05). Studies show that parental filtering reduces the high risk-taking behaviors and makes adolescents more responsible.[15],[21]

There was a significant difference between arguments with parents and number of hours spent on online in a week. Studies report that higher use of Internet for any purpose would increase the risk of being alone and decrease the interaction and interpersonal relationship even with parents as rightly pointed out by other studies.[9],[18],[19]

Significant relationship between total numbers of hours spent in the previous week online and playing online games, money spent for online shopping, personal level risk taking and gambling activities were observed. The study was carried out during the regular school time/academic year and students were still spending the same amount of time on internet which would be more devastating for academics too. It is clear that more the number of hours spent on online activities, higher is the risk-taking behaviors. Previous studies go in tandem with the present study.[6],[7],[20],[21] This particular finding clearly shows that adolescents who play online or offline games spend more money for online shopping.

Significant negative correlation exists (P < 0.05) between age of the respondents and emotional problems, starting from using the computers and playing online games. The particular finding clearly shows that lesser the age of the adolescents, higher the emotional problems. The older adolescents are matured enough and they will be in a position to control the emotions and take appropriate decisions. The younger adolescents are not matured enough and require support from adults. The younger adolescents might involve in irrational use of computers due to immaturity.

There was a significant relationship between emotional problems and risks while chatting, personal risk taking and gambling activities. Studies clearly show that those who have emotional problems, loneliness, and lack of peers would like to seek emotional support through online activities. In that process, they would reveal their personal details and even meet unknown persons. Adolescents might regard the Internet as their new attachment through the use of Internet.[10],[16]

Studies report that adolescents use the Internet generally for entertainment and communication purposes rather than academic use. Adolescents usually chat through Internet and generally introduce themselves differently while chatting. It was reported that most violent games were played on the Internet, and playing these games were related to anti-social aggression toward others and self. Pathological Internet users or addicted people usually chat more, view pornographic and shopping sites than other users. It was also suggested that as pathological Internet use increases, the academic performance decreases.[6],[15],[16] Further studies report that excess of Internet use leads to internet addiction, which parents should be aware. Adolescents who were dependents were found to delay work to spend time for online, lose sleep due to late-night logons, and feel life would be boring without the Internet. The hours spent on the Internet by dependents were greater than those of non-dependents. On the loneliness measure, significant differences were found between the two groups, with the dependents scoring higher than the non-dependents. The higher use of internet for any purpose as shown in the analysis would increase the risk of being alone and decrease the interaction and interpersonal relationships as rightly pointed out by other studies.[9],[19],[20],[22],[23]

In the era of globalization parents are busy in their work and most of them do not find time to spend with their children and are least bothered about their activities over the Internet. Most of the parents provide whatever their wards ask for and there is a lack of supervision in terms of scrutiny on which sites children visit and poor restrictions on children's Internet activities.[8] The current discussion on the risk behaviors of adolescent in using Internet clearly shows how children and adolescents are vulnerable to risk factors while accessing the Internet. It also affected the interaction patterns and interpersonal relationships of the adolescents for whom these two are very important for proper social development. Thus the Internet should be used in the right way with proper guidance from the parents, care takers, and teachers. The relevant use of Internet by children and adolescents solely depends on such important factors.


  Conclusion Top


Modern technology is a blessing for new generation and it should be utilized in the right spirit. Internet usage can lead to access enormous knowledge, increase skills, at the same time it can also spoil adolescents' life. If adolescents do not know how to use Internet, there is high chance that they may be misled. This is dangerous to the society. Parents, teachers, and other stake holders need to be educated on the importance of adolescents' internet use, risk-taking behaviors, and taking safety steps in preventing any hazards. There is an urgent need to address this issue on a greater level including policy level.

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

 
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