In today’s world, around 85 percent of children and adolescents have some type of game console, cell phone, computer, or tablet. Often, these kids use these devices in their bedrooms away from the family living area, and studies have found that nearly twenty percent of children use the internet without being monitored by their parents. Because kids aren’t being watched and are spending so much time in cyberspace, today’s children and adolescents are at a much higher risk of developing anxiety, depression, impulsiveness, abuse drugs, and develop antisocial tendencies.
Often, these children and adolescents are exposed to pornography or engage in activities that are psychologically harmful. Many teens participate in “sexting” or sharing intimate photos of themselves among close friends. This can lead to humiliation, anxiety, and depression when these private photos are shared online. Additionally, unmonitored children and teens can be exposed to cyber-bullying or become the unwitting target of pedophiles.
In addition to the distress children are experiencing due to the ease with which they can find pornography, violent videos, and information about drugs and alcohol, we are finding that kids who spend a lot of time in virtual worlds are also becoming antisocial. They often lose track of time, want to eat in front of the computer, and have difficulty turning off their mobile phone, computer, or tablet because they have become addicted to it. Adolescents who experience teenage internet addiction have more psychological problems, and addiction is more likely in those who are depressed, have anger issues, ADHD, or a social phobia because computer addiction has been shown to disrupt nerve pathway “wiring” in the brain. In fact, studies have shown that teens who are addicted to the internet are about 2.5 times more likely to have more anger issues and higher incidences of ADHD. They develop more social phobias because they can retreat into a different “personality” through their avatars, thereby avoiding conventional social interaction at a time when they are usually defining themselves socially.
As a parent, what can you do to help your child avoid teenage internet addiction?
- Be supportive and involved with your children’s lives. Even though kids will tell you they don’t want to talk about their day or about their disappointments and problems, children inherently want and depend on their parent’s attention and encouragement.
- Limit your child’s use of the device by locking it up or removing it, if necessary.
- Cut back on your own internet use. If parents are ignoring their children in favor of online time, children can do as they please and don’t have a good example to follow.
- To fight child or teenage computer addiction, put the computer in a public place in your home, not in your child’s bedroom. Also, be sure your kids use their cell phones and tablets in a family area. Remember the good old days, when families had one phone line and kids had to talk to their friends in earshot of everyone in the house? The computer should be used in the same way today.
- Seek therapy for teenage computer addiction or anxiety with a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional (parents should also take this action if they notice any other compulsive or dangerous behaviors.)