Female problematic internet users outnumbered males in research that explored attachment to online video games and social networking sites by those aged between 13 and 16.

However, more male teenagers were at risk of becoming problematic, according to the study.

The quantitative research study, looking into the prevalence of problematic internet use in Malta among young teenagers, was carried out between November 2016 and last January by the National Centre for Freedom from Addictions within the President’s Foundation for the Well-being of Society.

READ: How do local teens use the internet?

A total of 869 students from 18 schools took part in the research, with the findings, released yesterday, showing that 13.9 per cent are occasional users. Female participants, those living in the northern harbour district and students whose parents are professionals prevailed in this category.

Habitual users made up 65.5 per cent of the sample.

Characteristics that prevailed included female users, those residing in the south-eastern district, students whose mothers were employed as services and sales workers and those whose fathers were craft and related trade workers.

These users expressed difficulties when having to go offline while using the internet for entertainment purposes and they were also at the receiving end of negative feedback in this regard.

Users at risk amounted to 15.4 per cent of the sample.

Males, those living in the northern harbour district, students whose mothers work within the services and sales industry and children whose fathers are technicians and associate professionals, prevailed in this case.

These children stated that their main entertainment involved online video games or social networking sites and, by and large, these are their preferred alternative to traditional human contact.

Problematic users made up 5.2 per cent of the sample.

Most of them were female, users residing in the western district, children whose mothers are clerical and support workers and those whose fathers are services and sales workers.

These users reported forgetfulness and lack of sleep in relation to their use of internet for entertainment purposes. They also declared experiences of withdrawal, pre-occupation and loss of control.

Among others, the study calls for a policy that prioritises alternative leisure for young people, particularly of the outdoor educational type.

It also highlights the importance to capitalise on existing ‘meaningful real-life experiences and flesh-and-blood relationships’ to minimise the risk of ‘addictive escape’ by youngsters.