Internet overuse, pathological computer use and problematic computer use are three of the labels that are often used when discussing Internet addiction. This addiction or compulsion to use the Internet is becoming a serious condition for many kids. Like other addictions, it can interfere with the child’s well-being, psychological and social development and physical health. The good news is that parents can prevent this addiction by being diligent in monitoring the time spent online.
Understand What Internet Addiction Is
The idea of Internet addiction actually began in 1995, when Dr. Ivan Goldberg satirically proposed it as a disorder. His model was pathological gambling, as described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Though at the time the idea was presented with tongue firmly in cheek, it is still being debated whether or not to include it in the DSM-V as an addiction. Basically, Internet addiction disorder, or IAD, is use of the computer to the extent that is impacts daily living in a negative manner. Red flags include spending more time online than with friends and family, irritation when computer time is interrupted, excessive checking of email, school or work becomes secondary to Internet use, disregard of computer use restrictions, preference for online relationships, or moodiness and depression when the sufferer is not online. Whether or not it is a classified psychological disorder doesn’t really matter to the parent who has concerns over his child’s attachment to the Internet, though. For the parent who has yet to see an issue but wants to ensure that one does not arise, the same concern is present. In both cases, the parents’ handling of the situation is going to be the proverbial game changer.
Determine Your Child’s Risk
There are certain kids who seem to be more susceptible to Internet addiction, and knowing if your child fits the profile may help you plan some early intervention strategies. Teens who have been diagnosed with such disorders as depression, ADHD, social phobia or hostility may be more inclined to use the computer compulsively. Often, kids who have feelings of loneliness or those who have been uprooted will also be included in the high-risk group for Internet overuse.
Know Your Plan of Action
Unlike drugs, smoking and alcohol, which are dangerous addictions used for self-medicating or social acceptance, using a computer isn’t inherently harmful. In fact, in many ways computer overuse is similar to over-eating. People need food to survive, yet it can become a serious problem for some. Nowadays, the vast majority of kids need to navigate the Internet for school, but they can develop quite a problem when left to their own unsupervised devices. For 8% to 12% of U.S. kids, it isn’t a matter of just saying “no.” Just as the parent of an overeater needs to monitor and assist the child in making healthy food choices, the parent of a problematic computer user will need to help her child make healthy decisions regarding computer use. Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Communications and Media, stated that, “The challenge is for parents to find a way to actually mediate the usage so children get the good aspects of it without the bad.”
One of the most significant factors in prevention is parental intervention. It’s up to you to set limits on computer use. Begin early, and set up rules so that your child is not spending hours at a time online. Make sure you offer interesting alternatives to video games and Internet interaction. Spend quality time with your child doing things that are creative and fun, and help your child develop a strong social network offline. You can do this by getting her involved in sports or offline group activities in which she’s expressed an interest. Find out what her passions are aside from the Web, and help her pursue them. Perhaps she has an interest in a musical instrument or art. Encourage her to develop her natural gifts and talents. Spend some time each month volunteering in some way that does not require working with computers. Get your child involved in your faith community though the youth program. For physical health, get your child moving and make sure she gets plenty of exercise.
Showing your child that there is a big world beyond the computer and offering assistance in navigating that world will affect your ability to mitigate any brewing issues with computer addiction. It will take a little commitment on your part and you will need to become more closely involved in your child’s life, but when you consider the alternative, it’s worth the extra work.