These days, it seems like the Internet rules all. If that sounds extreme to you, think about how the connected devices you have in your home. How many do you have? How many do your kids have? Now consider how much time each member of your family spends in a connected state every day. How many times do you find everyone in the same room, disconnected from each other but connected to friends and places online? This can add up to a lot of hours and a lot of missed opportunities to communicate for real.
Perhaps the biggest problem with today’s constant connectivity is Internet teen addiction. While the World Wide Web is certainly a useful tool in education, research, and homework assignments, it can also be the downfall of your teen’s education and real-world social skills. If your teens are spending a lot of time on the Internet, you should know the signs of Internet addiction. Whether it’s gaming, social networking or just plain surfing, if you notice any of the following behaviors it might be time to take some action.
- Lethargy. Your teen seems abnormally tired in the morning, can’t get out of bed, or seems exhausted during the day. He may be up late at night playing games or surfing the Web.
- Internet time interferes with normal activity. Getting ready for school, attending family or extra-curricular activities, or sitting down to dinner is delayed or interrupted.
- Schoolwork slides. She can’t seem to focus on her homework for very long, and/or takes breaks for Internet sessions.
- Losing interest. Hanging out with friends, playing sports, or pursuing hobbies don’t seem important anymore.
- Getting angry at limits. Setting parental limits on Internet or device usage makes your teen angry, belligerent, or anxious.
- Withdrawl symptoms. Your teen seems nervous or distressed when not connected.
- Sneaking off. Using the Net late at night, skipping classes, or trying to hide when she’s using her device to get online.
If your teen is exhibiting signs of addiction, there are some things you can do as a parent to quell the problem before it becomes serious. The most important thing you can do is set limits on computer and device usage. These limits are most effective when put into place at an earlier age, before use becomes excessive. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, two hours in front of ANY screen should be the upper limit. Some experts even suggest one hour tops.
Once you have set limits for your kids, try setting some for yourself. Children learn acceptable behavior by example. If you’re spending a lot of time at home on a computer or phone, your kids will take their cues from you. If you respond every time your phone makes a noise, this sends a message that life stops when technology calls. Try having specific “no technology” hours at home, where every member of the family puts their devices in a box or basket during certain hours (even on silent), so everyone can focus on family interaction.
If your child is playing gaming, keep a close eye on their activity. While it’s important to prevent excessive gaming of any kind, be especially mindful of virtual-world type games like Second Life or World of Warcraft. Alternate-reality games are especially addicting because they put the player in a world where the real-life pressures of fitting in and being popular. don’t matter. This makes gaming feel like an escape. Plus, at any hour there is always someone online waiting to play.
The Internet can be an extremely useful tool in today’s world. Teens need to be technologically literate in order to become successful in education and business. However, balancing these tools with the rest of their lives is the key. If you think your teen may have a serious Internet addiction, seek help from an addiction counselor near you. You may even find therapists who specialize in Internet addiction to help your teen free themselves from this useful, but all-to-accessible influence.