Understanding Teen Internet Addiction
The Internet can be a useful research tool for your teen’s term papers or school projects, but using the Internet too much could have a negative effect on your child’s well-being.
Teens who have trouble connecting face to face may depend on the Internet as a place where they feel understood by their peers and use it as a replacement for social interaction.
“If your teen spends hours in front of a computer screen each day, he or she could be missing out on other creative, physical or social activities,” says Sarah Garwood, MD, adolescent medicine physician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “While teens might use social networking sites like Facebook to connect with others, spending too much time on the Internet can actually lead to social isolation in some teens. It is also crucial to keep in mind that Internet addiction may be a symptom of an underlying problem like depression.”
When to Worry
If your child’s grades begin dropping or if he or she complains of being tired all the time, the Internet could be to blame.
“One common sign in teens who spend too much time on the Internet is difficulty waking up for school,” says Lisa Hueckel, PLPC, master’s-level counselor and parent education specialist for the 454.TEEN (8336) help line at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “This could indicate the child is spending time on the computer at night instead of sleeping.”
Other warning signs of Internet addiction include:
- diminished interest in activities your teen once enjoyed
- feelings of distress or anxiousness when your teen cannot use the Internet
- secretive Internet usage
- withdrawal from activities with family and friends
To prevent your teen from experiencing these symptoms or if you notice signs of a possible Internet addiction in your child, set limits on how often and when your child can use the Internet. You can also join the same social networking sites as your child to monitor his or her activity.
“While the Internet can be a good educational tool and help with your teen’s homework, social networking sites and online games should be considered privileges,” says Hueckel. “Limiting how much time your teen can spend on sites like Facebook can reduce the risk of Internet addiction.”
Breaking the cycle of Internet addiction can be initiated by keeping the computer in a public room, such as a den or family room, so Internet use can be monitored. Encouraging your child to participate in other activities also may prevent excessive Internet use.
“Listening to and spending time with your teen is a great first step toward curbing Internet overuse,” says Dr. Garwood. “If your child is shy or has difficulty with social interactions, consider a social skills class and try to facilitate activities that connect your child to teens with similar interests.”
Be a Proactive and Positive Parent
Even if your child doesn’t show signs of Internet addiction, it’s important to set a positive example.
“Whether you’re a teen or an adult, we all spend time on the Internet,” Hueckel says. “Children model what their parents do, so it’s important to monitor your own usage as well.”
Taking an interest in what your child is doing on the computer also can help keep Internet usage in check.
“Spend time watching your child use the Internet and learn more about his or her online activity,” says Hueckel. “Not only will this help you gauge if the activity is appropriate, but you can also bond with your child by taking an interest and asking questions about certain Web sites or games.”
Here for You and Your Teen
While Internet addiction is not an official diagnosis, if you worry your teen spends too much time online, St. Louis Children’s Hospital is committed to helping your teen get back on track.
“The Adolescent Center is a great resource for concerned parents, and the Family Resource Center can provide information to help guide your teen,” says Dr. Garwood.