My world is inundated with teens and preteens. Not only do I have one in my own household, but so do most of my friends, and to make things worse, I teach them and counsel them full-time. Despite the varying backgrounds, personalities, and habits of all of the teens I know, they do have one thing in common – they have fully embraced the Internet, and they all have fully enmeshed online lives and communities. Many of them do not realize how caught up in their online lives they are; in fact, many are addicted.
The idea of Internet addiction is not fully accepted by parents, physicians, or even the teens, and perhaps the word “addiction” is too strong. Regardless of your perspective, it is obvious that millions of people, many of them teens or preteens, are spending far too much time online and becoming dependent on their online communities or friends to fill the gaps in their real world relationships. It is this bizarre cycle that does so much harm. People start to spend too much time online with online relationships so they alienate their real-world friends and family, so they feel alienated and retreat to their online friends and relationships for support.
Recognizing the symptoms of Internet addiction, and getting help for yourself or others is essential. Only by recognizing the problem in someone and supporting them can you start to reclaim the essential, valuable, and meaningful relationships in the real-world.
Symptoms of a Growing Internet Addiction
Think about yourself or your teen, and ask the following questions. If you notice many of these symptoms in your own life or the life of someone you care about, you might want to consider an open conversation where you can “speak the truth in love”, and try to arrange help.
Does your teen lie about how much time is spent online? If he/she is hiding the time invested in online communities or relationships, then those relationships are certainly overtaking real ones.
Does your teen continually talk about events online or his/her online friends? If you hear more about online relationships than events at home or school, there is probably a problem.
Does your teen feel anxious or angry if they cannot get online everyday? Can he/she go a few days without checking email or status updates? If not, there is probably a dependence on those communities that is not being met by real-world relationships.
Does your child eat meals at the computer, or do they even skip meals to be online? If this is occurring, then your teen is substituting a very basic need for online time. This is a very dangerous situation.
Has your teen quit other activities or clubs that s/he used to enjoy in lieu of being online? This is a major indicator that actual communities and relationships are being replaced by virtual ones.
Is your teen complaining about physical symptoms such as dry eyes, back ache, or general fatigue? We were designed to get up and move actively. Sitting at a desk or a computer is not our natural environment, so our bodies react poorly if we spend too much time sitting down.
Tips of Avoiding Computer or Internet Addiction
First, you have to have the data. Using a calendar or a tracking software program, try to understand just how much time your teen is spending online. Track the information for a few weeks and try to separate time spent on homework or research and time spent playing. Compare this to the amount of time spent with friends, clubs, activities and hobbies. If things are out of balance try to correct them.
Second, move computers out of your children’s room and into a public place. In my household, the family computer sits in the living room, and our work laptops are in the kitchen. At no time is someone allowed to be “behind closed doors” with a computer. Not only does this help honest people stay honest, but it helps to connect to your teens when they are online. Additionally, it is easier to monitor your teen’s time and traffic while online.
Also, if your loved one is spending too much time online, talk to them. Don’t harp on the fact that they are online all of the time, but rather try to get to the root cause. Often, someone retreats online because they feel safe there. Talk to your teen about what is going on in his/her life and demonstrate that your teen’s relationships aren’t all online. If he/she will not talk to you, then find a way to connect your teen to the people you know they connect to in real life.
Lastly, remember that if an Internet addiction is growing, your teen or loved one needs help. Often times, the Internet is a safe refuge for people with poor self esteem, negative self image, self destructive tendencies, or for people that have been hurt. These are also traits shared with those with eating disorders, drug addictions, or cutting addictions. If there is a problem, and a person needs help, these symptoms will continue to worsen until they get help.
Resources for Computer or Internet Addiction
netaddiction.com: “The Center for Online Addiction offers hope and valuable resources to those seeking treatment for Internet addiction. Internet addiction is a type of compulsive disorder and as an organization, we are specifically dedicated to helping people who suffer from this new form of addictive behavior.”
Internet Addiction Guide: “A resource for objective, useful information about Internet addiction, a theorized disorder.”
VirtualAddiction.com: “a practice organization dedicated to providing therapeutic services, information, and resources on cyber-behavior, Internet addiction, and problems with all forms of digital technology, at home, school, and in the workplace. “