Internet addiction disorder is a general term used to describe an obsession with the online world in which a user spends an excessive amount of time engaged in computer-related activities. These activities may include web surfing, social networking (Facebook), online shopping, Internet pornography, and video games. It may be helpful to view these activities as subsections of Internet addiction, because even though they are all online they are clearly very different. For example, someone addicted to Facebook will not automatically have an addiction to video games.
Too Much Time Online
No age group is immune to online addictions. Children, teens, and even adults can develop video game addictions. For teenagers, Internet addiction may be especially problematic. After all, today’s teens have literally grown up with the Internet and what may be considered “too much time online” by adults may seem quite normal to many teens.
Still, just because something seems normal to a teen does not mean that it is healthy, and parents need to be aware of the dangers of teenage Internet addiction.
Internet Addiction in Teenagers – The Signs Your Teen May Have a Problem
How can you recognize Internet addiction in teenagers? There is no official set of diagnostic criteria, but common signs include:
Spending an excessive number of hours online each day
Going online at every opportunity
Falling school grades and little attention given to homework
Ignoring family and friends in favor of Internet use
Claiming that his or her only real friends are online
Becoming angry at parents when Internet time is limited
Staying up very late to be online
Lying about online activities
A strong preference for using the Internet over all other activities
The Internet – Custom Designed for Teenagers
Think about teenagers’ natural developmental needs and interests – exploration, sensation seeking, obtaining new information about the world around them, feeling understood, testing limits, connecting with friends, discovering who they are and what is important to them, etc.
Now think about what the Internet offers:
Information on anything, an easy way to find others “just like me”, excitement, support, an element of danger that can be explored in relative safety, social connections, entertainment.
The Internet was custom-designed for teenagers. Almost everything they are looking for is conveniently packaged in an easily accessible digital form. Regardless of whether they are at home using a computer or away from home using a Smartphone, the Internet is never more than a click away. If they choose, they can be constantly connected.
Internet Addicted Teenagers – A Growing Problem?
The Internet is a part of our lives. It is very easy to make the case that, overall, the unprecedented access to information we now have has been a positive development for billions of people worldwide.
However, as is true for almost any enjoyable activity (eating, exercise, TV, drinking, gambling, sex), there are some people (teenagers included) who become addicted to the Internet or obsessed with computer games. Current estimates of Internet addiction are quite variable, but most published studies estimate that between 5 and 10 percent of Internet users may be addicted. Of course, Internet addiction is not an official diagnosis but the term used to describe the condition is really not as important as recognizing that from some teens, excessive Internet use is a real problem that detracts from the quality of their lives in the real world. Recognizing this, a few psychologists are now offering online help and downloadable workbooks for Internet and video game addiction.
Limiting Teen Internet Time Can Be Difficult For Parents
Even though they worry that their teen is spending too much time online, many parents struggle to set limits on screen time. It is easy to se why this happens:
Parents can see how much their child enjoys his/her online interests…and they are reluctant to take this away.
Parents may hope that excessive Internet use is a passing phase that will go away naturally when the teen develops other interests.
Some parents reason that they would rather have their teens in the safety of their own homes than outside the home where they cannot monitor who they are with and what they are doing (even if their only real activity at home is being online).
Although it is not a very good long-term strategy, parents may allow excessive Internet use to avoid the arguments and fights that may come from trying to set limits.
For shy or socially anxious teenagers with few friends, parents may simply be happy that their teen is interacting socially with others – even if it only happens online. As such, they may be reluctant to take away this one social outlet.
Advice for Parents
Parents who are struggling with teenage Internet addiction need to keep in mind that Internet use is a privilege not a right. Even though all their friends can go online “whenever they want” this does not mean that unrestricted Internet access is a right for your child. It is perfectly reasonable to expect that homework, chores, and other responsibilities are completed (and completed properly) before a teen is allowed to go online. If new limits are set (for example, 90 minutes of recreational Internet use or gaming per night), it is critical that these rules are consistently enforced and that there are predictable consequences for not following the rules. Teenage Internet addiction and video game addiction can be beaten but it may often require “tough love” from parents.