Internet use is growing at an alarming rate among adolescents and teenagers. A recent report revealed 92% of teens go online daily, 56% several times a day, and 24% almost constantly. That same report indicates that U.S. teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 spend an average of six and a half hours on screen media use.
Many parents are unaware that their child has become addicted to the Internet to the point where they can no longer function in their daily lives. It poses a severe threat to your child's physical and mental health. Helping your child will require educating yourself about internet addiction and getting help as soon as possible.
The Effect of the Internet on the Teen Brain
For most with internet addiction, the Internet activates the reward system within their brain the same way alcohol does when a person with a substance use disorder takes a drink or a drug. This happens because the brain releases dopamine, making them feel happy and excited. It feels so good that they want to experience it again and again. Over time many teens become desensitized to this artificial stimulation, so they need more and more activity to get the same effect.
A recent study from the University of California, Los Angeles found that heavy use of digital devices can lead to significant changes in the brain. Researchers scanned the brains of teens and young adults ages 14 to 21. Those who engaged in seven or more hours of screen time daily had lower levels of brain connectivity in regions associated with attention and emotional control than those who spent an hour or less using electronic devices every day.
Recognize the Signs of Internet Addiction in a Teen
If your teen is spending hours daily on the computer, it's time to look at their behavior. Here are some signs that your child may be suffering from an internet addiction:
- They seem depressed or moody without their phone or computer.
- They rely on the Internet for support and comfort rather than friends and family.
- Dropping grades or interest in school.
- Not eating or sleeping well.
- Becoming defensive when confronted about their behavior, or they cannot stop using the Internet or set limits on their time spent online.
- Lying to others about how much time you spend online.
- Avoiding other activities because of their Internet use.
- Losing track of time while online so that hours have passed without them realizing it.
- Failing to meet responsibilities at home, school, or work because of Internet use.
What Causes Internet Addiction in Teenagers?
If you're worried about internet addiction, do not blame yourself or your child. Addiction is a complex disease and often has its roots in other issues. Teens who spend too much time on the Internet could become addicted to gaming, pornography, gambling, and social media. Other factors that lead to internet addiction include:
- Stress: For some teens, the online world provides an escape from stressors in real life, such as school problems, family problems, or social problems.
- Family environment: Family conflict, including low family cohesion, a lack of warmth in the family environment, and not feeling supported by parents, can lead to some teens seeking support online.
- Social Difficulties: Some teens have difficulty interacting socially. They may find it easier to interact with others online and have more confidence when chatting online than face-to-face.
- Low Self-Esteem: Teens who have low self-esteem may feel better about themselves online than they do offline.
- Having a genetic predisposition for addiction: If you have a family history of addiction, your child may be more likely to develop an internet addiction.
- Mental health issues: If your child suffers from ADHD, depression, anxiety, or another mental health issue, they may turn to the Internet to escape these feelings.
- Need for approval: Teens feel the need to constantly update their status, post pictures, and keep up with what is happening in their friends' lives.
Treatment Options for Teens Suffering From Internet Addiction
Parents can utilize the following tools to assist their children with treatment.
- Set time limits: It's hard for kids to control their behavior and therefore need some structure. Establish times when the Internet is unavailable. If you're worried about this being too strict, consider it a temporary measure until your child can control their behavior.
- Residential or intensive outpatient treatment: Teens can enter a treatment center. Here teens will participate in individual and group therapy, psychoeducation, holistic therapies, and 12-Step outpatient or residential treatment meetings.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most effective treatment for teens suffering from Internet addiction. CBT focuses on changing thinking patterns and behaviors associated with an addictive disorder.
- Dialectical behavior therapy: This type of therapy focuses on helping people manage their stress levels, improve their communication skills and avoid maladaptive behaviors like excessive internet use and substance abuse.
- The 12-step program or SMART Recovery: While these recovery groups serve people with alcohol or substance abuse, their methods apply to behavioral addictions like internet addiction.
- Block certain sites: Specific sites, like gaming and porn, are exceptionally addictive; consider blocking them on your computer or installing filters.
There's no doubt that the internet serves as an excellent tool for learning, entertainment, and communication. However, it can pose many potential dangers for teens, particularly vulnerable to addiction. Fortunately, they can treat this condition. At Clearfork Academy, our treatment options include outpatient therapy, support groups, and self-help programs. We understand that it may take time to achieve full recovery; luckily, our resources and staff will work to find treatment and therapies that meet your teen's individual needs. Such measures will help your teen recover from their internet addiction and help them channel that energy into productive, healthy activities. If your child is dealing with an addiction to the internet, don't wait another moment. We will provide your teen with the professional treatment they need to begin their recovery. Once your teen completes treatment, they will gain their self-esteem and confidence. To learn more, contact us today at (817) 259-2597.