While we all probably spend a little too much time on our electronic devices, many parents are growing concerned about teen internet addiction. While cutting back on screen time may prove difficult to some, teens who are facing emotional, behavioral, or psychological issues may have an even more difficult time separating themselves from the online world. In fact, research shows that 92 percent of teens are online daily, and 24 percent of teens report that they go online “almost constantly.”
While some parents disregard problematic internet use or overuse, teenage internet addiction is not something that should be taken lightly. Teens who withdraw from the “real world’ into their online world are at risk for further isolating themselves from their peers and family and reinforcing underlying problems.
Internet Addiction Disorder Started as a Joke…
Internet Addiction Disorder was originally proposed as a satirical joke in 1995 by Ivan Goldberg, M.D. While it was originally a parody of the complex and rigid standards of the DSM-V, Internet Addiction Disorder is now becoming a reality for some individuals. While Internet Addiction Disorder is not yet classified as an official disorder in the U.S., it has been classified as a clinical disorder in China, where internet addiction disorder treatment centers have been popping up to combat this threat to their nation’s teens.
But Is It REALLY an Addiction?
Like video game addiction, many of the symptoms of internet addiction are congruent with the signs of substance abuse. This is due to the fact that under brain scans, both internet addiction disorder and substance abuse addiction share a similar neurological footprint. While substances create addiction by ingesting chemicals that release powerful neurochemicals, process addictions (such as video games, gambling, or the internet) are the result of behaviors that engage these same neurochemicals’ release. So, whether this comes from engaging in certain behaviors or taking certain chemicals, the results are often very similar.
Here are some common signs and symptoms of internet addiction disorder or problematic internet use in teens:
- Absorbed or obsessed with the internet. Often talking about or thinking about themes related to favorite websites, etc.
- Excessive or problematic use (many hours spent on the internet daily). Often checking favorite sites first thing in the morning, throughout the day, and last thing before bed.
- Anxiety or irritability when access to smartphone, tablet, or laptop is taken away
- Academic problems, such as dropping grades, missing assignments, disengaged from or sleeping in class
- Disinterested in other pastimes or activities they used to enjoy and choosing to spend time on the internet rather than with friends, sports, and hobbies
- Covering up or lying about the amount of time spent on the internet
- Isolation from their peer group
- Using the internet and/or social media excessively as a crutch or escape from negative emotions
- Avoiding responsibilities, such as schoolwork, chores, or after-school job in favor of spending time on the internet
- Disregard for personal hygiene
- Significant change in eating and/or sleeping patterns
Many internet addiction symptoms are congruent with the symptoms of a substance abuse problem. Some parents overlook signs of Internet Addiction Disorder as teens being teens. Teen internet addiction can cause physical health, social skills, and mental health issues. Spending prolonged amounts of time on their laptop, tablet, or smartphone over time can have major effects on the mind and body that should not be underestimated.
These individuals can often develop eating irregularities, migraines, and sleep disturbances. In fact, according to a recent study, internet addiction has been shown to disrupt adolescents’ sleep cycles. The cumulative amount of screen time a teen gets throughout the day — not just before bedtime — affects how long they sleep. Brain scans have also revealed that teen internet addiction can have negative effects on the parts of the brain responsible for emotional processing, executive attention, decision making, and cognitive control.
Symptoms of internet addiction disorder and/or problematic internet use should be addressed promptly with your child’s physician, mental health professional, or educational consultant.