Internet addiction

Internet addiction: is this the reality for the 21st century?


21 October, 2022

Internet addiction, phone addiction or technology addiction. Whatever we call it, we know it's becoming a more and more real thing among kids today.

More and more parents are expressing concern about their children's inability to get them away from electronic devices, phones, laptops and tablets.

With children aged 6 to 18 spending an average of 44 hours a week in front of screens, parents are increasingly concerned that compulsive internet use is robbing them of real-world experiences. 

Researchers point out that spending extended time in front of screens and on the internet becomes a problem when it interferes with a child's ability to have a normal life. Social media and games expose children to a huge amount of stimulation for their brains, and this can make them unwilling to take breaks or focus on other things. Technology has a negative impact on children if they spend so much time on screens that they give up eating, sleeping, doing homework or spending time with friends and family. Research suggests that intense internet use may also be a risk factor for anxiety disorders, especially among teenagers. 

David Anderson, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, suggests that in order to achieve a balance between children and internet addiction, we should make sure we help them have a healthy relationship with technology in general.  "We want them to be socially active in real life, to perform well in school and to exercise, but we should also understand that, inevitably, technology is part of our everyday lives, as well as our children's." says David Anderson.  

Is internet addiction real? 

Increased internet use is a growing social problem that is being debated worldwide. Internet addiction impacts people's lives by causing neurological complications, psychological disorders and social problems. Surveys in the US and Europe have shown that between 1.5 and 8.2% of the population admit how difficult it is to get away from the internet and, by extension, electronic devices (phones, tablets, laptops).

Internet addiction brings exclusively negative behavioural changes.

Marc Potenza, a Yale psychiatrist and director of the Impulsivity and Impulse Control Disorders Research Program, has researched internet addiction, and his research findings point out that internet addiction, unlike other addictions, brings about exclusively negative changes in people's behaviors. When people spend too much time connected to the internet they exhibit nervousness and anxiety, socially isolating behaviours in real life, reduced ability to concentrate and low levels of engagement in other activities.

Parents' concerns about children's potential internet addiction are justifiable, and experts recommend correctly identifying when little ones become too attached to their screens, monitoring time appropriately, taking into account the age and goals of internet use, and talking openly with little ones about the pluses and minuses of internet use.

Virtual world, real behaviours

"Our brains are hardwired to like new and stimulating things, and the internet captures this," notes Dr. Matthew Cruger, PhD, neuropsychologist and director of the Center for Learning and Development at the Child Mind Institute. "It's easier to turn on the internet and be overwhelmed by the flood of stimuli: colors, sounds, videos, images - than to engage in tasks that, while beneficial, don't feed the brain with an equally high flow of stimuli." he adds. 

In research, experts classify the following behaviours as manifestations of internet addiction:

  • In research, experts classify the following behaviours as manifestations of internet addiction:
  • Sacrifices necessary hours of sleep to spend time online
  • Becomes nervous or angry when online time is interrupted
  • Prefers online time over time spent with friends or family 
  • Loses interest in activities that were enjoyable before they went online

What are kids doing online?

The time children typically spend on phones and other devices can be summarised as: socialising with peers and friends, exploring personal interests, listening to music, doing homework, watching movies or TV.
 
A 2016 report by Common Sense Media concluded, "What appears to be overuse and distraction is actually a reflection of new ways to maintain relationships with peers and engage in communities that are relevant to them."
 

Dr. Anderson adds that "most of the activities children engage in online are not necessarily harmful," however, he notes, it is essential that parents or adults in children's lives set appropriate limits on internet and screen time, understand what their children are doing online, in order to feel confident that they are engaging in beneficial tasks.

Tips for maintaining a balance in children's use of the internet and technology:
 
Children's online activity needs to be monitored: It is important for parents to know and understand which platforms their children use regularly, track how much time they spend online each day and observe what activities they are doing. A useful tool for this would be an online consumption diary to fill in together. Parents need to remain flexible and open to understanding the reasons why young children want more and more time online. 
 
The internet can have educational functions: Children should be encouraged to watch documentaries, read new things about what they are passionate about, use the internet as a resource for different projects at school or access games that train their flexibility, creativity and strategy-building skills. 
 
Online parental control: It's recommended that parents familiarize themselves with privacy settings and permissions on sites and apps like YouTube so they know how to use them correctly, especially for those apps that allow direct messages, video chats, file uploads and anonymous users.
 
The power of example: The whole family should have a proper and balanced schedule for using digital devices and the internet. Tell children about the importance of having moments with loved ones in real life and why it is essential for people to maintain a balance in their use of digital technologies. 
 

Nowadays, children and teenagers have easy access to the internet. Internet use has become a relevant part of everyday life. Research points to the existence of internet addiction behaviours among young people, which is why it is important to help young people to surf the internet in a healthy and age-appropriate way. Using technology to talk to friends, listen to music, explore interests and play games shouldn't be a problem, as long as it's done in balance and in moderation. 

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