Tackling Internet Addiction In Teens | What Can Parents Do?

The process of becoming proficient online takes time and practice, and it stands to reason that the more time that teenagers spend practicing these skills, the quicker they will establish digital literacy and become confident navigating the online world. Yet, while many teens have a healthy balance of internet usage and other leisure activities, Internet addiction in teens has become a major cause of concern for modern parents.

People throughout the world refer to Internet addiction in teens as ‘the curse of a generation’. To illustrate just how ubiquitous this issue has become, the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a highly esteemed journal of psychiatric conditions, has officially recognised Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD) as a genuine scientific concern [1].

Rates of extreme Internet use are on the rise. A 2015 survey [2] revealed that 95% of school-aged children throughout the world had easy access to the Internet. While on average teens were estimated to spend 2 hours online after school on a typical weekday, 16% were reported to spend upwards of 6 hours a day on the Internet outside of school hours.

Teen Screen Time Statistics:

  • 34% of teenagers play online games daily [2]

  • Social networking and chatting online are the most popular online leisure activities for teens [2]

  • 3 in 4 teenagers report that they’re active on social media daily [2]

  • 50% of teens feel they are addicted to their device [2]

  • 72% of teenagers feel the need to reply to text messages immediately [3]

  • Teens are most active online between 5:00 pm and 10:00 pm, and nearly 30% are active online until midnight, even on school nights [4]

The Health Risks Of Teenage Internet Addiction

While research into Internet addiction is now emerging, it’s far from conclusive. There are health professionals who argue that it’s plausible that the public and parental panic surrounding digital addiction stems from social issues. It’s not uncommon for people to do ‘fun’ things in excess, and there’s nothing to definitively prove that social media or video games are any more addictive than other fun leisure activities. In fact, public anxiety tends to greet every new media, including such things as reading. Frank Furedi, a former sociology professor, addresses this concern by stating: “that individuals may have problems with digital technology is not in doubt – but the diagnosis of ‘digital addiction’ is a simplistic formula for condemning behaviours that we don’t like” [1].

Yet, although extreme internet use may not always be a case of genuine addiction, it is unequivocally clear that the health implications of extreme Internet use can be serious. Given the amount of time that today’s teenagers are spending online, it’s paramount for parents to understand the potential health risks associated with too much screen time, and excessive sedentariness.

The teenage brain undergoes significant change throughout adolescence and therefore requires more sleep in order to recover and recharge properly. Research indicates that teenagers should ideally get between 8-10 hours of sleep per night [5] and that not getting enough sleep can predispose them to internet addiction symptoms such as:

  • Issues with learning and concentrating

  • Heightened stress and anxiety

  • Acne and viral illnesses

  • Bad eating habits and weight gain

Poor sleep is also linked to decreased academic performance and increased vulnerability to mental health problems.

Other serious health side effects of digital dependence are related to excessive periods of sedentariness. Text claw refers to hand cramps and muscle pains caused by prolonged periods of holding a mobile phone. Having bad posture while sitting at a desktop computer is also associated with a range of musculoskeletal conditions.

What Can Parents Do To Tackle Internet Addiction In Teens?

1. Slowly reduce screen time

If you’re genuinely concerned that your teenager is addicted to the Internet, then you can try the cold-turkey approach, but weaning off a bad habit is often a more pleasant and achievable undertaking.

2. Insist on device-free dinners

Common Sense Media has championed a movement, #DeviceFreeDinner, which encourages all family members to surrender custody of their phones over the course of a family meal. It further encourages families to have sit-down dinners which are dedicated to family time and conversation.

3. No screens before bed

Research indicates that the blue light of digital devices can confuse and disrupt our internal body clocks. It’s therefore recommended that both children and parents refrain from using their devices for at least an hour prior to going to sleep. If possible, it’s even better to simply ban any devices in the bedroom, especially gaming consoles or desktop computers.

4. Monitor your own internet usage while at home

While a lot of social commentary focuses on the fact that 78% of teenagers check their devices at least hourly, we also need to recognise that 69% of parents are doing the same thing [3].

Final Advice For Parents

It can be hard to enforce an unpopular rule that is met with a lot of resistance. Furthermore, if your rules are too harsh or restrictive, you may face the added risk of your child defying them behind your back.

One key thing to remember is that Internet use for leisure activities is a privilege to be earned, not an inherent right. It can be beneficial and effective to incentivise Internet use by creating a screen time currency; whereby your teen must complete a series of chores or school-work before they can use their device for leisure purposes. As your teen gets older and more independent this can become harder to monitor, but doing it while they’re younger can help to encourage healthy Internet habits.

References

1. The World Weekly, 2017. Digital Addiction.

2. OECD (2017), PISA 2015 Results (Volume III): Students’ Well-Being, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264273856-en

3. Kelly Wallace, 2016. CNN. Half of teens think they’re addicted to their smartphones.

4. Australian Communications and Media Authority, 2016. Aussie teens and kids online.

5. National Sleep Foundation, 2015.Sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results summary.

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