Problematic internet use may lead to serious psychosocial dysfunction. Recent studies have found comparable prevalence in both male and female adolescents. We pursue the neglected questions how male and female adolescents differ regarding their patterns of internet use and how gender, peer attachment and patterns of use are related to pathological internet use. In 2410 adolescents (1307 girls and 1103 boys) aged 12-18 years from different types of school we assessed peer attachment, frequency and use of eight specific applications and indicators of pathological internet use. Three patterns of internet use, 'social'; 'sex and games" and 'functional' were identified and connections between variables were modeled by ordered sequences of regression. We found that problematic internet use-sex and games as well as social usage-was more prevalent in boys. Insecure peer attachment predicted problematic internet use in both sexes. Also, excessive usage of internet games and sex mediated the influence of peer attachment insecurity on problematic internet use, but only for boys. Our study identified that adolescents with insecure peer attachment are at higher risk for problematic internet use. With regard to specific types of internet use, the consumption of online games and sex was identified as risk factor in boys with increasing age. Further studies are needed to understand and possibly subgroup problematic internet use behavior in girls. Our findings suggest that increasing the quality of peer relationships may be promising approach in the prevention and treatment of problematic internet use.
Keywords: Adolescence; Attachment insecurity; Online sex; Peer attachment; Problematic Internet use; Sex differences.