How to Know When Your Teen is Addicted to the Internet

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.

  1. 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.
  2.  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.
  3.  Schoolwork slides.  She can’t seem to focus on her homework for very long, and/or takes breaks for Internet sessions.
  4.  Losing interest.  Hanging out with friends, playing sports, or pursuing hobbies don’t seem important anymore.
  5.  Getting angry at limits.  Setting parental limits on Internet or device usage makes your teen angry, belligerent, or anxious.
  6.  Withdrawl symptoms.  Your teen seems nervous or distressed when not connected.
  7.  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.


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Tyler Jacobson
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Tyler Jacobson

Tyler has been writing about ways parents can help their teens for the last five years. When he’s not writing, Tyler enjoys cycling and spending time with his family.
Tyler Jacobson
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  1. Mercedes Brennan says

    Great article! I have a 16 year old boy and a 14 year old girl and I found a website that addresses this problem in a very dynamic and positive way. It’s called Tracy addresses the issue in a realistic and engaging way. I think she’s pretty new on the net but she has years of clinical experience dealing with teens and kids and internet safety.

    Does anyone else know of blogs that address this issue specifically that you could let me know about? We are right in the thick of it.

  2. says

    We have two teens and one young adult at home and I’ll admit I was nervous while I was reading the signs but thankfully the passed :).

    It is more challenging to set limits to teens as they need the internet to complete school assignments. What works for me is setting rules like leaving the door open at all times while they’re on the internet and making sure I have privacy and taking advantage of parental controls.

    Thanks for sharing this with us. Definitely passing this along.

  3. says

    “If you respond every time your phone makes a noise, this sends a message that life stops when technology calls.” I love this and I so agree that we must model what we want our kids to be. It’s not culture, society, or “modern times”… we have a say in what our children become and it’s so empowering to take personal responsibility and do our part. Great post!

  4. says

    These are great tips, but with the exception of the last one could also be the symptoms of other issues as well, including the need for vision therapy or depression. It’s so hard being the parent of a teen. I’m glad mine don’t get to be on their electronics on schedules they make for themselves. I find that assists in limiting the opportunity for addiction. I’m also glad they only get to be a teen once. Great post.

  5. says

    When I started using the Internet (that’s when I was in college), I got hooked to it that I had to use my allowance on computer rentals. But I still retained my good standings though in class though.
    great tips!

  6. says

    I agree that with all the various screens available, it is so hard to limit time on the computer! I am not looking forward to my son’s teenager years!

  7. says

    We’re not to the teenage years yet, but I already have to limit my toddler’s time on the iPad! Fortunately since the weather’s getting nice again, we can spend more time outside. Growing up my parents always had a rule for how much time we spent on the Internet or watching TV.

  8. says

    Great tips! My oldest just turned 17 last week & he is one of those computer whiz kids so it is so important for me to watch his computer time cause he just gets lost in it :)

  9. says

    I love Lenie’s suggestion about turning off the lights and having candles lit. I think I may try that sometime. I’ll have to come up with a fun name for that time and make it so it becomes a special time for my family. I just posted a review about a documentary that addresses some of what you discussed here. This is a serious problem not just for teens, but families in general.

  10. says

    I feel for parents today – it is much more difficult to have that family communication which is so important
    Maybe if the family set aside 1/2 an hour in the evening, turn the lights down or maybe the candles on and just sit back, they may be able to connect because there simply isn’t anything else to do.
    Good luck to all parents today.

  11. says

    I have noticed the ANGRY AT LIMITS with my kids a bit more—guess what their out burst got them–NO SCREEN TIME two days screen free sure makes for a fast attitude adjustment!

  12. Savannah Miller says

    My kids are only 3 and 6 so its not an issues yet, but my sister is addicted. When she comes to my house the first thing she does is plop down on my computer to check her facebook status or look at a photo she just posted to see how many likes it has.

  13. says

    We have a no phones rule from 4-7 p.m. and it has become a no-technology rule. The only exception is if my son has homework that requires the internet. We actually talk with each other. When our older son brings friends home for college break weekends, they are shocked that we don’t have phones at the table. But, they don’t resist. They just add their phones to the basket on the counter. AND, by the end of the weekend, I always get comments that they are glad about it.

    We changed the password on our xbox to limit our son’s online time. Little did I know that he could bypass that by using a friend’s email and password. Parents, there are loopholes galore. The best way to limit access is to control access to wifi with a password the kids don’t know!

  14. says

    My hubby says I am addicted! Especially in the winter. Good tips for parents – my daughter makes sure the kids turn of the electronics and play!

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