Timothy was twelve when his parents bought him a computer for his room, thinking it would be helpful to him with his homework, as he was entering junior high. Timothy took to the Internet immediately and soon discovered chat rooms and email. At first, Timothy’s parents watched over his shoulder frequently to make sure he was using the Internet safely. After a little while though, they stopped monitoring his online habits. Soon problems arose, however. Timothy began to spend all of his free time in his bedroom, and was moody when asked to spend time with his family. His average grade dropped from an A to a D and he became irritable and angry when he was away from his computer. Timothy is a high risk for Internet addiction.
Computers have long been used by both children and adults as reliable sources of information. Over 20% of children now have computers in their own rooms and through the Internet have access to an unlimited supply of information and interaction. However, the risks of addiction are very great among children who are exposed to the Internet without strong parental guidelines.
Excessive Internet use in children can lead to health problems like obesity, headaches and general ill health due to lack of physical activity. Children may become socially maladjusted and less able to communicate well with friends and family. Pedophiles can and do target children online. There is a high risk that children who use the Internet excessively will be exposed to inappropriate sexual content as well as scams. Excessive game play and use of online services can also result in children spending money without their parents’ knowledge. Finally, a majority of popular online games depict excessive use of violence. Viewing trivialized violence in a virtual world, like television or the Internet has been linked to marked increases in behavioral violence among young viewers.
So, what are the warning signs of Internet addiction? Psychological and media experts have compiled a list of warning signs for Internet addiction:
1. The Internet is frequently used as a means of escaping from problems or relieving a depressed mood.
2. Your child often loses track of time while online.
3. Sleep is sacrificed for the opportunity to spend more time online.
4. Your child prefers to spend more time online than with friends or family.
5. He/She lies to family member and friends about the amount of time or nature of surfing being done on the Internet.
6. Your child becomes irritable if not allowed to access the Internet.
7. He/She has lost interest in activities they once found enjoyable before getting online access.
8. Your child forms new relationships with people they have met online.
9. They check their email several times per day.
10. He/She has jeopardized relationships, achievements, or educational opportunities because of the Internet.
11. Your child disobeys the time limits that have been set for Internet usage.
12. They eat in front of the computer frequently.
13. Your child develops withdrawal symptoms including: anxiety, restlessness, or trembling hands after not using the Internet for a lengthy period of time.
14.Your child is preoccupied with getting back online when away from the computer.
15. They have trouble distinguishing between the virtual world and the real world.
It is very important that parents identify Internet addiction in their children at an early age and set limits on their Internet use. My next article will provide a no nonsense contract that parents can use with their children to set limits and boundaries on Internet use.