Teen internet addiction is a behavioral disorder, characterized by compulsive and harmful amounts of internet use. Social media consumption and compulsively checking social networks is one potential symptom for internet addiction, although the key to determining if a teen is struggling to manage their media consumption or is addicted to it lies in how their behavior affects their life.
Because most teens communicate through the internet and largely stay connected with one another and society through smartphones, “excessive” internet usage may simply be a part of teen life. But if their internet use leads to sleeplessness, struggles with regular human interaction, inability to keep up with responsibilities, and an inability to spend time apart from their phone or some other form of internet access, then it’s a serious issue.
Internet addiction is often related to conditions of anxiety or depression, as well as social isolation.
Getting addicted to the internet is not actually hugely common. Teens often struggle with their internet use, struggling to moderate it, and consistently overuse devices in a way that negatively impacts their mental and physical health. But usage that can be clearly characterized as a mental and emotional dependence on the internet and various media platforms usually requires severe stress or a predisposition towards compulsively seeking out and engaging in addictive or stimulating behavior.
Predisposition – some people have a family history of struggling with addiction, and it’s not fully understood why. Substance abuse and behavioral addictions are quite different, but it is possible to be more susceptible to an internet addiction if you have a family history of mental health problems or behavioral disorders.
Lack of in-person contact – a life without real social interaction will lead to teens going online to seek out an easy answer against their isolation and loneliness. No one wants to feel alone, and when you can go online, you’re never ever alone. That’s not necessarily a good thing, and constant online access will only lessen a teen’s chances of developing real in-person, offline relationships.
Anxiety issues – social anxiety heightens a person’s risk of reclusion, and the negative effects that come with it. This has turned into a social phenomenon in some countries, such as Japan’s “modern hermit” issue.
Excessive stress at home and/or in school – external pressure to perform well or conform to certain expectations will lead teens to seek ways to cope, sometimes developing the urge to suddenly shut everything and everyone out. The Internet becomes an attractive and quick way to retreat from others and remove oneself from responsibility.
of teens have access to a smartphone
of teens describe themselves as “online almost constantly”
of teens believe their internet usage has a mostly negative, mostly attributed to lack of in-person contact and cyberbullying
Set dedicated offline times at home – it’s important for your teen to learn to limit their internet usage, especially when it’s crucial to get time away from the screen. Maintain rules to keep devices away from the table during meal times, and out of the bed during sleep hours.
Engage in activities with your teen – if your teen is struggling with ways to spend time outside of the internet, help them out. Doing something productive together can be a good bonding experience, provided it’s engaging for your teen. You don’t necessarily have to force them to get into gardening with you, but you could try and pick up a sport together, go hit the waves, pick up a music class, or just go watch a movie together. Encourage your teen to do something else with their time.
Help them manage their time – time management can be tricky for teens. Some are disciplined enough to live by the clock, but others chase lost time and seem to keep losing more of it. Hanging out on their devices a lot of the time only contributes to wasted minutes. Help your teen create and stick to their own schedule and reap the benefits of being more productive.
Teen internet addiction treatment involves techniques and approaches typically used in treating addiction.
Therapists help teens understand the severity of their issue and recognize the negative effects their internet usage is having on their behavior and relationships with others.
Therapists also help teens recognize what leads them to behave compulsively in the first place, and try to begin to dismantle these behaviors, so that the people can learn to control their urges. Cognitive behavioral therapy is effective in helping teens be more aware of how they think, why they think that way, and what they should do to think in a healthier way.
Medication is not meant to treat addiction, but to help treat other symptoms that are often part and parcel of a behavioral disorder like an internet addiction. Severe symptoms of social anxiety require therapy as well, but in some cases, a prescription for antidepressants can relieve certain symptoms and make therapy more effective. Medication is not meant to be a long-term solution but can aid in the process.
Sometimes just spending time away from a screen and learning to cope with being offline for a bit can tremendously help a person discover that they don’t need to be online in order to function or be happy.
The internet is an unavoidable part of the 21st century, and the future, so completely abstaining from internet usage is not the goal of treatment. Instead, it’s to help teens learn how to cope with stress without resorting to old bad habits, and without compulsively checking their phone and spending hours in group chats and on social networks and media platforms.
Treating a teen for an internet addiction may sound like a daunting task, but usually, separating a teen from their online connection and helping them understand how they might be able to function without the net can work wonders. Here at Paradigm Malibu, we bring teens together to work on their issues, be it a mental health problem or an addiction.
It’s important to understand that mental health issues can be treated, especially through guided therapy, group meetings, and healthy social interaction. By keeping groups small and through an open, natural environment, we help maximize the effect of therapy and give each patient the treatment they need.
Taking a teen off the internet will be difficult for them at first, but they will quickly learn to adapt and cope in the right setting. Residential treatment in the form offered by Paradigm Malibu specializes in helping teens feel comfortable with their surroundings, so they can focus on getting better.
Each teen gets a treatment plan that best fits them and their symptoms. A number of things can cause an Internet addiction, and there is a much greater number of factors responsible for exacerbating a teen’s reliance on the internet as a way to cope with stress. Only a personalized approach that considers every important factor can get through to a teen and help them make progress with themselves.
This facility made a world of difference for my daughter. I had tried other treatment programs for her, and they were generally all pretty atrocious. Staff that didn't care, new staff that had no idea what to do, lack of control with kids, etc. I could keep going but just know they were mostly all the same. This facility, however, was a complete 180 from all the others. The staff was extremely friendly and attentive from start to finish. They made my daughter and I feel welcomed and the staff really knew what they were doing. The communication with me was a huge point that I truly appreciated. I was never kept in the dark; I always knew what was going on with my daughter's treatment. She is doing so much better now and I could not be happier with the progress she's made.
- Ashley R.
At what point is it a serious addiction?
The definition of addiction is still quite hazy. Some consider an addiction to only be characterized by the effects of addictive substances on the brain, while others rely on the result as a characterization, whereby addiction is any compulsive thing done despite clear harm to oneself and others, differentiated from OCD by the lack of an obsessive thought pattern leading to said compulsion.
Think of internet addiction to be an unhealthy dependence on online contact, to the point that you cannot function offline, and will actively find yourself going on social media apps just to escape the here and now.
Until then, however, it doesn’t hurt to cut back on online activity. Take some time to go offline – especially at night, when you should be sleeping. Teens need as much shuteye as they can get, and the combination of smartphones and early school schedules makes for a large population of sleep-deprived teens, robbed of cognitive capabilities, with compromised immune systems and unbalanced hormone regulation.
Is the Internet bad for teens?
The Internet is neither purely a force for good or a source of bad behavior. It is a massive technological development that has allowed us to progress socially in a way never before imagined, or properly pictured. Like the telegram, telephone, and television before it, the internet is one of many communications innovations in human history, and there’s no way to keep current and future generations from interacting through the internet, eventually weaving it into every possible aspect of life.
With that comes the responsibility to learn how to minimize the risk of internet usage. Studies show that excessive social media use is negative and leads to insecurities and self-esteem issues. Teens are getting their priorities twisted if they spend most of their time online. They have to learn to live fulfilling offline lives as well – otherwise their online lives won’t be interesting, either.
Parents have to sympathize that their children are going through a completely different developmental experience – but teaching your teen to manage their time and use the internet as a tool rather than living it in 24/7 is much more important than trying to force them to minimize their exposure to a network that is likely only going to become more prevalent throughout their adult lives.