It is without a doubt that the Internet has become a part of people’s everyday lives, especially for youth. The Internet can be accessed using stationary desktops and laptops. However, when tablets and smartphones came into existence, the use of this technology has become even more tremendous than it already is. This is when abuse comes into the picture, which is now being referred to as Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD). Also known as Internet Use Disorder (IUD) and Problematic Internet Use, this disorder can be a huge difficulty, particularly for young people. As a parent, you want to make sure that you are there for your child especially during this day and age.
Why You Should Be Worried
The Internet is undeniably useful. Everyone, from students to professionals, uses it to gain information. It has also presented a whole new meaning to convenience. People can do numerous things with it without having to work hard to achieve the purpose. For instance, researching on a particular subject used to mean that a student had to go to the library and read a book or two. With the Internet, students only have to search for the topic using a keyword or key phrase and all the answers are right there.
However, the benefits come with a price especially with young people who are easily hooked on Internet usage. Networking sites, although they are fun and help children become more social, make Internet dependency worsen. Parents should definitely be concerned and be able to learn more about Internet addiction facts because psychiatrists believe that such a compulsion is actually comparable to tobacco, drugs, and alcohol dependence. More Internet addiction research is being conducted mainly in Asian countries such as South Korea and China. As a result, some researchers and psychiatrists consider adding IAD as a psychiatric disorder under Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in the Fifth Edition or DSM-V.
The two mentioned countries conducted their studies because there have been deaths related to the Internet. In South Korea, there were 10 deaths involving heart problems and other health issues because of excessive Internet use. In addition, there have been murders related to online games. Meanwhile, in China, reports say that one in six Chinese people are dependent on the Internet. This can pose a huge challenge to parents of adolescents because they are more susceptible to the influences of the media.
It does not really matter if this is a psychiatric disorder or not because Internet addiction does cause other problems. These include depression, anxiety, impulsivity, shyness, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), low self-esteem, and even suicidal thoughts. All of these conditions are certainly worrisome especially if you do not help your child address them immediately.
Internet Use Addiction Defined
Ivan Goldberg, a psychiatrist, coined the term Internet Addiction Disorder in 1995. It was originally meant as a joke, but many researchers took it seriously. Due to the popularity of the Internet, many other terms were born including Compulsive Internet Use (CIU), Internet Overuse, and Pathological Computer Use among others. In general, this disorder describes the excessive use of computers and the Internet, which results in a person not being able to do his or her daily tasks. Computer and Internet activity includes, but are not limited to:
- Playing online and offline games
- Watching videos or movies
- Internet shopping
- Social networking
- Use of email
- Internet pornography
The above-mentioned activities are addictive and a person who engages in inappropriate or overwhelming amount of time with them is considered an Internet addict. Someone with such disorder shows one or more of the following impulse-control issues:
- Cybersex craving – This denotes that a person frequents adults chat rooms or websites that encourage adult fantasies and not just the pornographic videos. A person is considered an addict if such activity negatively impacts his or her real life relationship.
- Addiction to cyber relationships – Instead of focusing on the people who are close to him or her, an Internet addict would choose to communicate with online friends more. Such addiction includes being hooked on social networking, texting, messaging, and joining chat rooms to the point where online friends are the main priority over real life people.
- Money-related activities – Gambling and shopping online are the two main activities where money is involved. An Internet addict will consume a lot of money which will eventually result in financial problems. Other deeds include stock trading and online gaming where the gamers use real money to make sure their game characters are the best and the strongest of all.
- Information compulsions – Hearing something unfamiliar triggers curiosity where the addict has to search for that information. Compulsive use of search engines that result to less interaction with other people is a sign of Internet addiction.
It is important to understand that Internet use can either be healthy or unhealthy. As a parent, you should know how much is too much in order to protect your child from becoming too dependent on their computers or devices. Of course, one person’s use of the Internet varies from another person. For instance, some professionals use the Internet more than an average person because this is required of their work. The key is to determine whether your child’s relationship with you as well as with other people is affected because of Internet usage. If it absorbs your child’s time and he or she keeps repeating the same behavior with the Internet despite the obvious negative consequences, it is time for you to step in.
Internet Addiction Disorder Symptoms
There is an Internet Addiction Disorder test that assesses whether or not someone is an Internet addict. The test has been found to be quite beneficial because it does measure the important cause and effect relationship in online use. If you believe that your child is addicted to the Internet, you should look for the following signs:
- Losing track of time whenever he or she is in front of the computer
- Gets cranky when you interrupt their online session (e.g. mealtime, study time, and the like)
- Does not complete tasks or work just keeps piling up
- Isolation from other people
- Defensive over excessive Internet use
- Hiding his or her Internet use from you
- Feeling happy whenever he or she is doing an online activity
Truly, the signs and symptoms of being an Internet addict differ from one person to another. This is because there is no set amount of time everyday that tells parents their children is an Internet addict. However, the warning signs mentioned above should give you an idea as to whether or not your child is one of them.
Why You Should Act Now
Becoming an Internet addict has a number of negative consequences particularly on the emotional side. Most children and the teenagers have a problem with low self-esteem. Others eventually lack social skills because they would rather talk to people in the virtual world than the ones that they can interact with offline. Aside from the emotional impact, addiction to the Internet can also cause consequences physically. These include:
- Pain and lack of sensation or numbness in the wrists and hands, a condition known as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Strained vision and/or dry eyes
- Headaches, migraine, backaches, and neck pain
- Trouble sleeping
- Weight loss or weight gain
Both the physical and emotional effects bring negativity into a person’s life. This is your child’s life and future on the line. As a parent, you are responsible for your son or daughter, which is why the time to act is now.
Internet Addiction Treatment
Internet addiction is quite common in teenagers, but this does not mean that you should just let your child be. You have a huge role to fulfill and that is to guide your teen toward understanding healthy Internet use. The good news is there are many ways on how you can help your son or daughter combat the net compulsions. The first step is to make him or her realize that the Internet is helpful, but it can also ruin someone’s life. Everything has to start within your child’s self. By understanding that he or she is exceeding the normal use of computers and the Internet, it will be much easier for you to perform your job.
The second step is to have a long talk with your child. This is where you will learn why they spend an awful lot of time online. This is actually one of the most crucial steps because you will learn whether or not there are underlying problems related to your child’s behavior. In this stage, you will learn:
- If your child is battling stress, anxiety or even depression
- If your son or daughter has a problem with drugs or alcohol right now or even in the past
- If online activities serve as a way for your child to be numb or feel emotionally unattached to the outside world
After a sincere talk and recognizing if your teenager needs further help, you can assist him or her in building the ability to cope. There are many young people these days who do not know how to deal with stress or their feelings of anger. Being a teenager is not always easy especially if there is no one to guide them. Thankfully, they have you, their parent, whom they can rely on instead of simply blowing off steam over the online world. Other times, your child may be shy and thus is having trouble when it comes to relating and communicating with other people. This is probably why they choose to talk to people whom they cannot have a direct contact with. The best way to remedy this situation is to encourage them to build their skills in dealing with the stresses and strains of life. Helping them understand that it is possible to overcome shyness by being more comfortable and confident about themselves is a good start.
Finally, a proven and effective way to combat addiction is to strengthen relationships with the right people. Reassure your son or daughter that finding and building relationships is valuable. Give them the motivation to join groups where they have common interests such as book reading, sports, or music.
Modifying Internet Use
You can help your child regulate the amount of time he or she spends online. Some of the possible things that you can do include:
- Keeping a log of Internet use for both important and unimportant activities – This is where your child will learn if there are times when he or she uses the Internet more. Perhaps there are situations that trigger them to stay online more than the amount of time they intend to do so.
- Helping them set goals – For instance, you can set a timer that will give them a schedule when to use and turn off their computers or mobile devices each day. After that, you can reward them with more time online or other types of incentives if they are able to accomplish their tasks. These may include completing their homework or doing some chores at home.
- Encouraging them to do other healthy activities – Being inside almost all the time and simply browsing the web for hours are definitely unhealthy. If your child is lonely and bored, you will find it difficult to convince him or her to stop going online. It is actually quite useful if you can help your teen find other ways that will enable them to fill their time. Perhaps you can urge them to go outside and play with their friends or even invite their friend over for lunch or dinner.
Regardless of the intensity of your child’s Internet addiction, you should be aware that parents have a huge responsibility in keeping the balance between their normal and online life. Do not be surprised if it is difficult at first because most teenagers will resist their parents as they are taught how to manage their Internet use. By maintaining a resilient attitude over the matter, your child will eventually understand that there is life outside Facebook or the web browser.