Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2022 Jan 15. doi: 10.1007/s00787-022-01944-5. Online ahead of print.
Problematic Internet use (PIU) has a negative impact on self-esteem among adolescents, thereby making them be vulnerable to developing depressive symptoms. However, there is a lack of longitudinal studies focusing on the process. This study aimed to explore the longitudinal associations between PIU, self-esteem, and depressive symptoms. A total of 1,736 adolescents completed this longitudinal study. The baseline survey was conducted in 2019, and the follow-up surveys were performed at 1-year and 2-year later. PIU, self-esteem, and depressive symptoms were measured. A cascade model was used to examine the longitudinal associations between PIU, self-esteem, and depressive symptoms. The mean age of participants was 13.6 (1.5) years at baseline. The final results observed significant within-time associations between PIU, self-esteem, and depressive symptoms at each time point. PIU and low level of self-esteem could predict subsequent depressive symptoms among adolescents, and depressive symptoms were also associated with subsequent PIU and self-esteem. Both PIU and self-esteem show bidirectional predictions with depressive symptoms among Chinese adolescents. Schools and parents should give more attention to adolescents prone to developing depressive symptoms and more social support to reduce their negative emotions. Health-related professionals should incorporate practical knowledge and skills into the education of adolescents to help them better control Internet use, attenuating the risk of future depressive symptoms.