Tackling Internet Addiction In Teens | What Can Parents Do?

We’ve grown so accustomed to our devices that most of us can scarcely imagine a world without them. The fact that 89% of adolescent children now own smartphones has caused parents throughout the world to reflect on how the pervasiveness of the Internet might be affecting today’s youth.

A 2018 report published by the American Psychological Association has raised concerns over adolescent happiness levels by demonstrating a link between increased screen time and decreased psychological well-being. “Adolescents’ psychological wellbeing decreases the more hours a week they spend on screens, including with the Internet, social media, texting, gaming and video chats.”

A major OECD survey in 2017 looked at the habits of 15-year-olds across the world and found that 16% of teens on average spend more than 6 hours online outside of school (its definition of extreme Internet use) during weekdays. Another US survey found roughly 20% of 14-17-year-olds spent 7 or more hours on screens each day.

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 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: “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 certainly 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 physical inactivity.

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 physical inactivity. 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. Remove all Internet-capable devices from your child’s room

This includes smartphones, tablets, eReaders and televisions.

2. Encourage 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 put limits on having 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

Tackling Internet addiction isn’t easy and going cold turkey can have significant negative consequences on the social and emotional wellbeing of the child. Setting boundaries such as restricting the time spent on the Internet will help prevent them from forming an unhealthy dependence on their device or online interactions. Developing a Media Agreement as a family is a positive step in ensuring everyone’s media experiences are more meaningful and balanced with real-life activities.

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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