The prevalence of problematic Internet use in Malta among young persons aged 13–16 years: a quantitative research study
Aim: This research study investigated the prevalence of problematic Internet use among 13- 16 year-olds in Malta and Gozo, with special attention to this age cohort’s engagement with the Internet for entertainment.
Method: A total of 869 students of Years 9, 10 and 11 (Forms 3, 4 and 5) from a total of eighteen (18) schools that comprised of fifteen (15) State schools from the ten (10) different State colleges, two (2) Church schools and one (1) Independent school, participated in this study between November 2016 and January 2017, by submitting their response to the quantitative Problematic Internet Entertainment Use Scale for Adolescents (PIEUSA). The PIEUSA was previously used in similar studies in Spain and Britain.
Results: The results enabled the identification of a four-tiered Internet for entertainment user categorisation: occasional users (13.9%), habitual users (65.5%), at risk users (15.4%) and problematic users (5.2%). Overall similarities in size of the user categories between Malta, Spain and Britain show that ubiquity of Internet for entertainment transcends cultural contexts, at least in Western European countries. Problematic users reported experiences of withdrawal, preoccupation and loss of control.
Conclusion: The identification of these experiences provides a more comprehensive understanding of their experience of problematic use of the Internet for entertainment. It also informs the debate concerning recognition of problematic Internet use and broader behavioural addiction as official disorders. Findings from this study support the policy development of targeted adult education and lifelong learning, as well as enhanced media literacy.
Recommendations: Investment in community-based non-formal educational interventions that combine online and offline interactions. When including sports, these interventions would capitalize on empirical evidence supporting physical exercise as a replacement for online activity that maintains dopamine levels. Future research should account for a more sophisticated pilot study design to allow the testing and retesting of quantitative data, as well as consider the use of mixed-methods research to include qualitative investigation, particularly of home dynamics.