Today’s teens have never lived in a world without the internet. They are often more tech-savvy than adults and they embrace new trends and technologies. The Internet is a great way to stay connected and informed, but if you’re the parent of a teen, you know it can also cause a lot of problems too.
Use can evolve into an obsession, and this obsession can become an addiction. Real life can begin to take a back seat to online time.
TEENS AND INTERNET ADDICTION DEVELOPMENT
Anyone can become addicted to drugs, the internet, or certain behaviors. However addiction is more likely for some individuals. NPR.org explains that when it comes to internet addiction, “the problem isn’t restricted to kids and teens, though some — especially those who have depression or anxiety disorder — may be particularly vulnerable.”1
Teens experience swings in mood and behavior. This is a normal part of growing up. However these swings can also indicate underlying mental health issues. Underlying issues make addiction a greater risk.
Concerns that can complicate a teen’s relationship with the internet and technology include the following:
- Anxiety: Feelings of anxiety over life, school, achievements and relationships may make the internet seem more appealing
- ADHD: Teenagers with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder may discover that the internet can hold their attention
- The need to escape: The internet can be an escape from the hormones and emotions of adolescence
- The need to explore a different identity: Your teen may feel that he or she can have a different identity online or can be more themselves away from in-person family and peers
- Co-occurring disorders: Your teen may also be facing obsessive-compulsive disorder, other anxiety disorders or depression
Even if there isn’t an identifiable underlying cause of addiction, your son or daughter may simply feel overwhelmed by his or her emotions. The internet can offer temporary feelings of escape, numbness or social connection.
If he or she does not have healthy coping mechanisms in place, and many teen do not yet have the skills or awareness needed for these, the internet can become their only outlet or source of soothing. When this happens, dependence and addiction can develop.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF INTERNET ADDICTION IN ADOLESCENTS
So is your teen addicted to the internet? The following symptoms might indicate a growing problem:
- Internet use seems more important than time with friends
- Internet use becomes a teen’s only hobby
- Internet use has affected your child’s grades in school
- Your teen regularly loses sleep due to internet use
- Your teen has met suspicious or unsafe people online
- Your teen has unhealthy eating patterns or high caffeine intake
- He or she experiences anxiety when away from the internet
- Internet use has led to neglect of appearance or hygiene
- You’ve discovered missing money or increased online spending for websites, games and other internet purchases
Every teen is different, so signs and symptoms vary. If you feel something is “off,” you don’t have to wait for obvious red flags. Talk with your teen’s doctor and addiction professionals. Learn the best approaches for have a conversation with your child and offering him or her help, understanding and support.
HOW IS INTERNET ADDICTION TREATED?
Addiction needs to be treated, and it needs to be treated sooner rather than later. EMBO Reports explains, “the problems are very real and those students who are unable to control their online activities, whose grades drop and whose relationships with friends and family sour, definitely need help.”2 The best treatment approach depends on your teen and his or her specific mental, physical and emotional health. EMBO Reports continues:
“Treatment approaches vary, ranging from cognitive behavioral therapies and counseling to the use of drugs normally used to treat conditions such as ADHD or depression.”
A drug-free approach is typically the best first approach to treatment, but medications can be useful tools before, during or after a treatment program. They can help your teen balance any underlying mental health issues, issues that can be assessed and identified during professional care.
Other resources that can help include the following:
- Activity monitoring
- Medical care
- Nutritious meals
- Individuals counseling
- Group therapy
Inpatient treatment can provide all of this and more in one unified, integrated setting.
By Alanna Hilbink, Contributing Writer
1 McClurg, Lesley. “Is Internet Addiction Real?” NPR.org. 18 May 2017.
2 Wallace, Patricia. “Internet Addiction Disorder and Youth.” EMBO Reports. 7 Jan. 2014.