Internet Addiction and How It Can Affect Your Child

internet addiction

Internet access went from somewhat of a luxury item to a must-have utility in only a few years. It’s so ubiquitous that many people now rely on the internet to work, shop or get their daily news and entertainment. Thanks to innovations such as smartphones and readily available public Wi-Fi connections, more than 85% of U.S. adults are online daily, while 31% describe themselves as “almost constantly” online. 

How is this always-on mindset affecting children growing up with technology at their fingertips? Is it possible for kids to have an internet addiction? Here’s what you should know.

What Is Internet Addiction?

As a parent or guardian, you may worry that time spent in front of various screens is robbing your child of real-world, in-person interactions and experiences. Many kids must use the internet for school, especially with the widespread adoption of remote learning due to COVID-19. And when they’re not using technology to learn, children are online gaming, watching videos, sharing on social media and chatting with friends. 

While these activities can be beneficial, if you aren’t diligent about monitoring your child’s internet use and online activities, your family could fall prey to the dark side of technology. Here are some possible red flags of a young person’s growing internet addiction.

  • Routinely losing track of time while playing or socializing online
  • Sacrificing hours of sleep or neglecting other crucial activities, such as chores and homework, to use the internet
  • Lying about time spent online, or going behind your back to circumvent any restrictions you’ve put in place
  • Becoming angry, agitated or irritable if you limit their screen time or access to their devices
  • Prioritizing online relationships instead of getting together with real-life friends and family
  • Acting moody or depressed when they aren’t online   

The Social-Emotional Toll of Childhood Internet Addiction

While many people have convincingly argued that internet access is a fundamental human right – especially during a pandemic – it also offers an escape from real-life problems and complicated feelings. Kids who are feeling lonely or vulnerable, or who have underdeveloped social skills, may be at a higher risk for developing inappropriate relationships or spending excessive amounts of time online.

Internet addiction is a valid concern in many families, particularly in situations where children cannot relate to their peers, lack other outlets for self-expression or wish to exert more control over their environment. However, as a parent or guardian, you play an influential role in your child’s relationship with technology, and you can place restrictions on how and when they use it.  

Tips for Keeping Kids Safe Online

Children are still learning to navigate the world around them, and they might not realize that people may take advantage of online anonymity to create false identities or misrepresent themselves in other ways. Online, not everyone is who they seem to be, so parents and kids should stay alert. 

  • Talk to your kids: Encourage children to tell you about what they do online, especially if they see or hear anything that makes them uncomfortable or feels like a possible red flag. Tell them to avoid sharing personal details, photos and videos on the internet. Explain in an age-appropriate way that this information may expose them to possible risks.  
  • Monitor online activity: Understand what platforms your children use regularly, and keep track of how much time they spend online daily and which activities they engage in. You might want to have your children maintain a log of their internet use. If they resist this idea or you spot obvious discrepancies in their record-keeping, it could be time to bring up the topic of internet addiction. 
  • Use parental controls: Familiarize yourself with privacy settings and permissions on sites and apps such as YouTube so you know how to use them correctly. Specifically, pay close attention to all apps and sites that allow direct messaging, video chats, file uploads and user anonymity.
  • Model the behavior you want to see: If you implement rules surrounding your child’s internet use that you don’t intend to follow, you may seem disingenuous. 

Family Therapy at Pine Grove

As mental health professionals, we recognize that mental health issues and behavioral addictions can impact your entire family dynamic. That’s why we have created comprehensive family programming and education that encourages healing and progress as a unit. At Pine Grove, we are here to help whenever you decide to learn more about helping your child overcome an internet addiction.

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