The use of the internet among teens and young people is on the rise, occasionally ending in tragedy. Their habitual use of the internet is continuous and habit forming as most devices and apps that we use daily are internet based and is a requirement in order to complete our day to day responsibilities. During school, during work or during their personal time, different platforms are accessed for different practices and most have become necessary in order to keep up with life.
Let us pretend for a minute that our children think like adults. They had a hard day at school, enjoyed the company of their family during dinner, completed their homework and now it’s finally their time to unwind and relax before bed. They undoubtedly turn to Facebook on their cell phone for their favorite leisure activity. After approximately 30-60 minutes, they’ve seen it all. They chatted with their friends, posted a few funny pictures. They shut down their device and off to bed they go.
In a perfect world, this would be true. Unfortunately, for some internet users, specifically teens and young adults, it does not stop there. It continues throughout the night into the wee hours of morning. It affects every aspect of their life, including family, friends, and school.
Telephones are no longer the primary source of communication. In fact, most common families no longer have a landline in their home. Cell phones have become the new norm in ways in which we communicate with each other. It has become popular to message and text as a form of communication, especially among the young generation. Adults are starting to become accustomed to the new way of life and how society communicates with each other. Face to face dialogues have been replaced with FaceTime and Skype. Real conversations using phones have seemed to fade away. It’s been replaced with the ever changing technology.
At first glance, it seems that teens are just chatting with their friends about common shared interests; they interact with their family and class mates in the same manner. They are also using their desktops, laptops, smart phones and other forms of electronic devices to function in the real world. Their entire life revolves around being on the internet and the use becomes excessive and eventually becomes a problematic.
The constant use of the internet, whether for personal use, professional or even school has become a problem in every home in this country and around the world. A problem if not dealt with properly will turn into an addiction.
It has become difficult and even hard to imagine that another form of addiction has been formed by the use of computers and parents are having a hard time putting a stop to the matter. Most parents don’t recognize the symptoms of this addiction and simply brush it off as kids will be kids. It’s important to know the signs and seek assistance of a medical professional to ensure their child gets the help they need in a timely manner before it becomes worse.
The negative outcome that is triggered by excessive use of the internet has a huge effect on their behavior, their personal life, academic life, and their relationships with their parents, siblings and friends. Their grades suffer and their work lacks the attention it requires to stay productive and meet their goals.
Let’s begin by stating that internet addiction amongst children as well as adults originated not too long ago. There is limited information about the topic at this time as well as actual diagnostic criteria to follow. Research is being conducted on many various levels because the term is so broad and consists of stages of addictions that fall under the term “Internet Addiction Disorder”.
Researchers and other health care professionals have known about this disorder back in the last 1990’s. Dr. David Greenfield and Marissa Hecht Orzack started their research on this topic in 1999 with a first look into internet addiction beginning with AOL and their ever popular chat rooms which is where the addiction seems to first originate.
In fact, countries such as China, Korea and Taiwan were among the first to really start facing this addiction head on. The first in-patient center to treat internet addiction disorder opened in Beijing, China in 2006, with hundreds of treatments provided to both men and women experiencing an internet addiction.
By 2010, most Asian countries were a head of the game. Korea took the initiative in creating a solution for this tremendous ongoing problem by developing preventatives and necessary treatments. They had National Screening days in place to indentify children at risk for this addiction. There are early prevention programs available in schools and literally hundreds of in-patient and out-patient treatment centers in place with medical professionals who specialize in treating this new addiction we’ve all come in contact with.
It is hard to pin point symptoms for this addiction because it does not display any visual signs like drug addiction, alcohol or even tobacco addiction does. The symptoms are much different from other addictions, different physically as well as psychologically.
Due to lack visible symptoms, it is hard to come up with a proper diagnosis for the child. It then becomes even more complicated because insurance will not cover a patient without a proper diagnosis attached, therefore leaving parents in the dark as to how to treat their child with an addiction if they cannot cover the cost out of pocket.
The symptoms discovered so far have shown to include the following:
The child is agitated and seems stressed out without their technological devices in hand. They feel the need to constantly have their cell phone, lap top or video game available. Parents will notice their child’s behavior begins to change and they’ll notice mood swings that were not present before such as anger, irritability and their patience seems to diminish in time.
Backache & Neck Pain
The child begins to display signs of back pain, neck pain and other muscular discomfort. The back pain originates from sitting for long periods of time playing on the internet or playing their video games. They are usually slouched over for hours which affect their posture, resulting in back pain and other soreness.
If you’ve ever noticed when you watch television for a long period of time, you will usually begin to get a headache. This is an indication that it’s time to stop. It works the same with cell phones, computers or video games especially if they are accessed during the evening or night hours. If there is little to practically no light in the room, you strain your eyes which results in a headache.
Weight Gain or Loss
You will notice your child’s weight begin to fluctuate. They will either gain weight from sitting too long without physical movement or they will begin to lose weight from not eating because they are not able to get way long enough to grab a nutritious meal. Their eating habits begin to change will affects the rest of their body and how they feel.
Trouble Sleeping or Maintaining a Set Schedule
If you haven’t caught your child up late at night playing with their cell phone or on their lap tops, you haven’t been looking hard enough. Make a trip to their room late at night and you will discover they are not sleeping as instructed. They are instead sitting in the dark playing with their phone and chatting with their friends. Needless to say, they will have a hard time getting up in the morning and staying awake during the day. You may even get a phone call from school advising you that your child is very tired and falling asleep in class.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Eventually, your child will develop Carpal Tunnel Syndrome which is pain in hands, wrists and arms. It’s very painful and will prevent him/her from doing other activities. This is an indication that they are on their computer or cell phone for long periods of time or they are simply playing video games which affect both of their hands and exacerbate the situation if continued daily.
Blurred or Strained Vision or Dry Eyes
Along with a headache, your child might complain of pain in eyes, strained vision, dry eyes or stinging. They may eventually put such a strain on their eyes that glasses will be necessary. The light they are exposed to will ultimately harm their vision in the long run.
Dishonesty and Defensiveness
You will notice your child will start to lie in order to cover up the amount of time they spend playing games or using their cell phone or lap top. They generally understand they should not be spending so much time using their electronic devices. To avoid punishment, they will lie. They will get very defensive once you start to converse about the topic of using their technological devices too much.
Depression and Isolation
If your child is expressing signs of depression, it’s because they are depressed. They may experience self awareness that they have a problem. They want to be alone, in their room without any disturbances. Spending time with family will no longer be a priority for them.
They have total access to create themselves another life. A more private life they feel will give them total freedom to say what they want without being afraid of judgment. They are capable of creating personal accounts on any site they access. Over time, their behavior begins to change. They lack social interactions outside of their online world. If allowed, they slowly begin to immerge in their own little world, excluding everyone else from it.
This new obsession/ addiction has not only taken over young people’s lives, but adults have been known to fall under the same addictions as most teens, setting a bad example for the younger generation to follow.
Gambling among the adults is on the rise at very high speed. Those suffering from a gambling addiction get the same thrill playing online as visiting a real live casino. It’s even better because now they don’t even have to get dressed or leave their home. They can link their online accounts directly to their bank accounts, credit cards and other forms of payments to make bets in hopes of winning some money.
We have witnessed many adults being reprimanded for using social media while at work. Mothers have been seen neglecting their children scrolling through Facebook and Twitter for the latest news. Teens have been known to show poor academic performance due to an increase in accessing social media during the day. They were distracted, opinionated and behaved differently according to what they witnessed that day.
Another form is internet addiction that most do not consider is trading of stocks and online auctions which fall under the same category at an alarming rate. Any form of overuse of the internet or computer is considered an addiction especially once it starts to affect your outside life.
The big question remains. What can we do in the U.S. to align ourselves with the rest of the world in overcoming and treating this new form of addiction? We need greater awareness and the first step in attempting to educate our youth must start at home. The root of the problem begins with parents as most will introduce technology to their kids at a very young age. It begins with letting your child hold your phone while you’re occupied with other tasks. Most children today by the time they reach the age of 3 will usually have a toy that is internet based and will require them to be online.
Parents must be aware that children watch their every move and will in most situation follow in their footsteps. If the parents are consistently online, the child will view it as a norm and will practice the same behavior. We must be role models for our children.
Parents can also help their children deal with this addiction by enforcing rules at home that will prevent the children from accessing their computers and cell phones. For example, placing the computer in the family room, will prevent your child from using it during the night. Putting away cell phones during dinner will greatly reduce time spent online. It will also give parents an opporunity to get involved in their child’s life and have face to face conversations during dinner.
Our schools should be equipped with medical professionals and counselors who specialize in addictions. We must make it a priority to educate our children and use preventative measures so to avoid a problem in the future. We must teach our children how to balance their time on the internet without allowing it to consume them. We need more treatment options for those children already dealing with this disorder.
With the ever changing world of healthcare and technology, there are amazing opportunities being discovered every day. We must stay hopeful and believe we will overcome this crucial matter in the future!
By: Ida L.