Online life: how to help your child to cope with online addiction

May 21, 2019

The Internet itself is neither good nor bad — it is in many ways a useful and necessary part of the modern world. Most adults can keep the situation under control by visiting online pages only as needed. However, a curious child, getting into the virtual space, may try to “squeeze” out of it as much as possible — movies, social networks, music, games, and chatrooms. This is often at the expense of real life. What are the signs of Internet addiction in a child? How do you cope with the problem? We’ll talk about this in today’s article.

What is Internet Addiction: Fascination or Obsession?

“My son is only 9, but he already skillfully plays many computer games, and understands modern gadgets. Recently this has started to scare me. Teachers complain about my son’s bad behavior — he surfs the Internet from his smartphone and plays games even in class. His grades started to slip because he does not have the time to learn his lessons properly because of the endless games. When everyone has already gone to bed, my son will quietly turn on the computer and browse the Web or run the shooter. I do not know how to properly address his excessive love for gadgets. I don’t want to spoil our relationship and provoke aggression from the child.”

– Anna, mother of 9-year-old Yuriy

Internet addiction is an obsessive desire to constantly be online and a painful inability to appropriately “switch” to real life. [1]

Many children aged 5-12 often get caught up in interesting hobbies. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a collection of stickers, weaving bead bracelets, or online games. But if a child gets unlimited access to gadgets and a computer connected to the Internet he/she quickly gets “sucked in.” One click, and the child is already on the world wide web, where he/she can find a lot of entertainment, escape from problems, and become who he/she wants. If timely prevention of Internet addiction is not ensured, the teenager can become so fond of virtual space that reality is replaced with it. The child could perhaps be spending up to 18 hours a day on the net.

The status of Internet addiction in adults and children as a mental disorder has not yet been established by official medicine. According to many experts, the mechanism of its formation is in many ways similar to alcohol, nicotine and drug addictions. Another similar example is Internet gaming addiction. Recent studies show that the amount of dopamine (the pleasure hormone) produced during video gaming is comparable to that of certain drugs. [2]

What is the danger of Internet addiction in children?

 

  • loss of interest in what is happening around them;
  • disruption of communication skills;
  • disruption of sleep and eating habits;
  • the decline in school performance;
  • increased excitability and anxiety;
  • memory impairment;
  • health problems (obesity, eye and spine diseases, head pain).

Types of Internet addiction in children

According to psychiatrist K. Young, there are 5 types of Internet addiction.  Children under 15 are usually exposed to only three of them. [3]

 

How do specific types of addictions manifest?

Type of Internet-addiction
Features of a child's behavior
Gaming addiction
The child spends all free time playing online games. He/she eats little and pays scant attention to studies. The child does not notice how time flies away and cannot break away from the game for a minute. The child can spend all his/her pocket money on buying games and "upgrades" of heroes
Dependence on social networks
The child practically ceases to communicate with peers. His/her friends are "faceless" interlocutors in chat rooms and forums. Gradually, it becomes difficult for the child to meet new people and skills of real-life communication are lost.
Obsessive web surfing
The child constantly navigates the net on different sites. There is no specific purpose — rather banal clicks on links and a lot of unnecessary information. If the child has no access to a computer, he/she always has a gadget at hand.

Reasons for Internet addiction: Why a Child Chooses the Virtual World?

Though innocuous at first sight, the fascination with online games and social networks can develop into a harmful habit. So, what are the reasons for children’s addiction to computers and the Internet?

1.      Child’s shyness and insecurities  

This is one of the most common causes of Internet addiction in adolescence. It is difficult for shy children to communicate with their peers and to find new friends. On the Internet, they can forget about their insecurities and hide behind a beautiful avatar or a cheeky nickname. But whilst virtual communication becomes established, it becomes even more difficult for the child to communicate with the people around.

2.      Inter-family conflicts

A child often hides in the virtual world to avoid family scandals. It can be a very effective way to escape from complaints and reproaches from parents and avoid listening to their quarrels.

3.      Stresses

What difficult situations in life may motivate a child to immerse him/herself into the virtual world? Possible causes include bullying in school, loss of a loved one, unhappy love interest, serious illness and hyper-care of parents. In a state of stress, an under-formed personality instinctively looks for a space in which to feel comfortable. The world of social networks or online games can become such a platform.

4.      Excess free time

How does one spend free time? Of course, to connect to the gadget and the Internet. When the child has few friends and no serious hobbies, he/she combats boredom in the simplest way possible — by playing games, watching movies and online-chatting.

5. Parental irresponsibility

It often happens that parents themselves offer the gadget to a child so that he/she does not interfere with their work. Sometimes children under 7 are thus distracted, because it is during the preschool period that children ask a lot of questions, learn to interact with the world around them and require a lot of attention. All this can lead to quarrels, the annoyance of parents and manipulation on the part of children.

“During this period of life a parent’s interaction with the child is very important, but many parents prefer not to waste their time and energy. They refrain from explaining  what is good and what is bad, but simply give the child a gadget, turn on the game and step away from the stressful situation. This is how the child’s addiction starts to develop.”

 

 – Elena Krasnova, Psychologist at the Institute of Distance Psychology in Russia

Signs of Internet addiction in children

The fact that modern children spend a certain amount of time each day “online” is considered a normal situation. It would be wrong to diagnose Internet addiction in everyone who has an available device with access to the Internet. However, it is important to understand what signals will help you to  notice the problem at an important stage.

Several questionnaires are used for psychological diagnosis of computer addiction. They include a short test for Internet addiction from psychiatrist K. Young, which she developed in 1996. This can also be used for self-diagnosis of Internet addiction in a child. The test includes 8 statements to be answered in the affirmative or negative: [3]

1.   All the child’s thoughts are only about the Internet.

2.   The time the child spends surfing the Internet is constantly increasing.

3.   There have already been unsuccessful attempts to control, restrict or stop the child from using the Internet.

4.   The child, despite the rules set by himself or his parents, always spends more time on Internet entertainment than initially planned.

5.   The child becomes tired, aggressive, or bad-tempered when attempts are made to limit or stop the use of the Internet.

6.   The child lies about how much time he/she spends online.

7.   The Internet is causing poor school performance.

8.   The child uses the Internet to dispel a bad mood or to hide from problems.

If you have answered in the affirmative to 5 or more statements, we recommend thinking about solving the problem.

In general, symptoms of a psychological dependence on a computer/device in adolescents are similar to those of any other type of addiction. It is hard not to notice when fascination becomes a bad habit. The following are signs of addiction:

  • Compulsiveness. This is uncontrollable behavior aimed at getting online faster. For example, a child comes home from school and immediately sits down at the computer instead of having some rest or getting lunch.
  • Denial. The addicted child’s critical attitude to the negative consequences of his addiction is lowered.
  • Abstinence (withdrawal syndrome). This is when the Internet is prohibited and the child becomes bad-tempered and aggressive in response to the control and parents’ comments. [4]

 

Prevention of Internet addiction in adolescents

“My son is 15. It’s been a year since he got involved in online gaming. I can’t tear him away from the computer at all! He plays until I start yelling at him. During the school holidays he does not move from the screen from early morning until late evening. He does not go on walks or socialize with anyone. It’s only his favorite game that matters. It’s impossible to get my son to do anything around the house. He has one answer: “later.” Naturally, he does not fulfill his promises. I reprimand him many times and once even snatched all the computer wires from the socket. I was frightened by my son’s reaction — he turned pale, his lips and hands were shaking, and he was screaming like crazy. I don’t know how to help him get rid of his Internet addiction. I’m afraid for my son; because of games he has become twitchy, he talks to himself and has almost stopped sleeping.”

– Ekaterina, mother of 15-year-old Sasha

The ages of 10-12 is the start of an awkward period. Everything escalates — insecurities, fears, and doubts. Affected by heightened emotions, children are especially vulnerable to Internet addiction, since virtual space gives them the illusion of importance. It becomes a way to get away from numerous problems. It is often during early adolescence that children discover social media and online games for the first time.

As with other non-chemical types of addiction, it is easier not to allow this to occur at all, rather than treating such addiction in the future. Therefore, parents should initially pay attention to the prevention of Internet addiction. According to psychologists, the following actions on the part of parents should be effective:

 

  • When a child is first getting acquainted with the Internet, it is important to explain to him/her the basic rules of online life and show what useful opportunities the world wide web offers.
  • It will not be superfluous to establish a clear time frame for using the Internet. It’s important to do this without threats and strict prohibitions — they are sure to cause rebellion, especially in a teenager.
  • Parents should not overlook the activity of the child in social networks. It is important, however, not to cross the personal boundaries of the teenager, who is likely to perceive mother and father’s care as “excessive” concern.
  • The child’s life should be eventful, not limited to just the area of the room containing the computer. The child should have hobbies and regularly visit clubs and interest groups.
  • Parents should not set a bad example. When the child sees that Mom and Dad spend a lot of time online, he/she will think that this is normal.
  • Trusting relationships in the family will help to establish communication with the teenager. Then the child will not have to “hide” from problems on the Internet. [5]

Internet addiction in adolescence: advice to parents

Gaming addiction in teenagers, associated with the computer or the Internet, does not always pass with age. Initially, an “escape from reality” alone is not dangerous but a serious problem can appear when a teenager begins to experience strong emotions in his/her “refuge”. These include victories in online games, establishing romantic relationships online, and creating a reputation with anonymous chat partners. Such positive bonuses of virtual life become for the teenager a ’fix’ similar to that of drugs for an addict.

The banning of computers and gadgets and the removal of accounts from social networks are the most widespread methods used by parents who are concerned about the development of the teenager’s Internet addiction. These are radical steps that usually only make the situation worse. A child deprived of online games and communication with virtual friends will respond with open or hidden aggression, which can be a serious test for relationships within the family.

Computer addiction in teenagers does not appear out of nowhere. It is often a consequence of psychological, emotional, or interpersonal problems. A combination of negative factors is also possible. In adolescents, it is better to treat internet addiction by identifying its specific causes.

It is important to help the teenager because he will not be able to escape from  the virtual world alone. The best method is to have a trusting conversation with the child and establish rules for the use of gadgets and the Internet. For a teenager to get out of the influence of Internet addiction and return to real life, he/she needs an alternative, one that would compensate for personal losses. Sports and interesting hobbies will help.

When neither trusting conversations nor prohibitions “work” in the fight against the addiction, it is important to consult a psychologist. Often, it’s not only the child that needs help, but also the parents.

One effective way to get rid of teenage Internet addiction is to change the pathological behavior pattern. The patented 7Spsy behavior modification technique is geared towards this. The program is based on the scientific theories of I.P. Pavlov, B.F. Skinner, A.A.Ukhtomsky, etc. Internet addiction is treated by replacing a negative mindset with a positive one.

The child will understand that real communication is much more interesting and productive than a virtual life. The behavior modification course will help to painlessly exit from the Internet world, reestablish relationships with parents and peers, and extinguish the fear of real communication with people. The child or teenager will have the time and inner resources for study and personal development.

The program is designed to take 2-6 weeks. The classes take place remotely, which saves time. The support and help of psychologists is provided by phone, e-mail, and online chats and will help to get rid of the addiction in a comfortable mode. If the child is shy, they won’t have to discuss their problems with a psychologist, as with standard consulting. You don’t need to inform teachers about the course or tell relatives and friends about the program. The participation in the program is completely confidential.

One day your child will thank you for helping to deal with a problem that could have a negative effect upon his/her future.

 

 

Information from this website cannot be used for self-therapy and self-diagnostics. 

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