Confronting Internet Addiction in Children and Teens

Feb 19, 2014

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There are so many sources of information at children’s fingertips today that it can be difficult to determine when a child is facing addiction. Cell phones, tablets, and laptops are often available within arm’s length and retreating into this technology is more and more common. Internet addiction is a growing condition that affects more children each day. 

What is Internet Addiction?

Defining Internet addiction has been a problem plaguing counselors and psychologists. This relatively new form of addiction can be tricky because many rely on the Internet for work or communication with friends and family in a way which might suggest addiction - but also may just be a reflection of Internet usage being a part of their everyday life. Internet addiction boils down to Internet usage affecting the user’s ability to function in normal day-to-day life.

Identifying Addiction

Trained psychologists have trouble diagnosing addiction. Internet addiction should be suspected when a child stops attempting to forge healthy relationships in real life situations and spends more time online or using a digital device. Children who become agitated or combative when their access is blocked may also have a problem. Parents need to become computer savvy because another hint for addiction exists when children sneak around to use the Internet and ignore their scheduled time online.

The Cost of Addiction

Internet addiction may seem like an innocuous condition but its effects are very real. A preoccupation with online activities, the inability to form relationships offline, and use of the Internet to escape from feelings of inadequacy or helplessness are all consequences of Internet addiction. Often, children who are grappling with Internet addiction are using their reliance in the online world to cover up issues with depression.

Many children find themselves having issues connecting with people in the real world. Internet addiction provides the addict with an emotional crutch to deal with larger issues. Ignoring that cry for help will only result in additional feelings of inadequacy in adulthood.

Dealing with Internet Addiction

If Internet addiction is suspected, the best thing a parent can do is discuss the problem with their child. Pretending the problem doesn’t exist or enacting restrictions without talking will only result in the child feeling defensive. Discuss the ramifications of addiction, which activities are being missed and why the child feels the need to retreat to the digital world. Open communication can help parents understand the meaning of the addiction and address the underlying problems.

The next step is to provide clear guidelines for Internet use. Proper website blocking and parental oversight should be in place to monitor whether the child slips back into addiction. Many children turn to the Internet to deal with emotions of unease or depression or to form relationships.

To help addiction, encourage real world relationships to take the place of the feeling of belonging they seek online. Reinforce family bonds by having a game night or establishing a weekly dinner with extended family. Sign-up the child up for a class of interest.

Consulting with a therapist with experience in Internet addiction is advised. Someone with proper training can determine which steps would benefit the child most in fostering strong real world relationships and ensuring the child’s addiction is kept in check.

Internet addiction is a very real condition that can have serious ramifications in adulthood if not addressed. Parents who suspect their child is addicted to the Internet should take the steps outlined above to address the underlying problems associated with addiction and integrate Internet usage as an important but not necessary part of the child’s life.