Some teens are better equipped emotionally to casually play video games or use the internet periodically with no problems disconnecting from the digital world. While excessive video game, social media, and internet use has the potential to turn into abuse or addiction for any teen, there are some teens who are more vulnerable to technology addiction, overuse, or abuse. For teens who are grappling with an emotional, psychological, or neurodevelopmental issue, unplugging from their devices may prove to be a bigger struggle, as these struggling teens may be using video games or the internet as a way to escape from everyday “teenage problems” or even more serious issues.
Developmental or neurological issue
(i.e. ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder.) Teens who have neuro-developmental issues such as these can have struggles that go beyond the typical “teenage problems.” Individuals with developmental or neurological issues often struggle with a lack of self awareness/self control, impulse control, and social skill deficits. These teens are especially vulnerable to technology addiction or abuse, since video games and the internet provide easier ways to relate to others. In addition to the appeal of the digital world for these teens, issues with impulse control can make it harder for them to stop.
Since depression and anxiety are often associated as “adult” issues, these can go undiagnosed in children and teens. This is a misconception, as anxiety and depression often appear during adolescence. Technology addiction and abuse often coincides with anxiety and depression as an unhealthy coping mechanism. Escaping into the digital world is a way some teens handle uncomfortable emotions associated with teenage problems.
Each teen displays symptoms of depression differently. Some teens who are depressed will display typical symptoms of depression: isolation from peers, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, and irritability. Others may engage in more dangerous coping mechanisms such as self harm, risky sexual behavior, or substance abuse. If your teen is escaping into the virtual world, it may be the way he or she is dealing with depression. But this would be considered an unhealthy coping skill.
An unresolved family conflict
Some teens are not emotionally equipped to deal with a major family conflict or trauma. Even adults have trouble dealing with these issues. Since teens don’t yet have the tools or skills to cope with negative feelings some will escape into video games or the internet as an unhealthy way to cope with things that are out of their control, such as:
- Adoption issues
Low Self Esteem/Bullying from Peers
Teens who experience bullying can often experience feelings of social isolation, loneliness, anxiety, low self esteem, and fear. When teens are overwhelmed with these emotions, escaping to a digital world with the chance to be any avatar they want with any characteristics they desire can be very appealing. The opportunity to immerse themselves in the digital world can also be a way for teens to make virtual friends while doing something they may excel at.
Technology addiction or abuse is something that should be addressed promptly. In addition, any underlying mental health or emotional issues should be addressed to ensure that your child is using healthy coping mechanisms to address negative emotions, rather than turning to digital media to escape from one’s real life feelings and issues.