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What is Internet Addiction Disorder?

Find out if your teen is addicted to the Internet & what you can do about it.

Very few people would dispute the usefulness of Internet usage.

It can provide information, instruction, and entertainment when and where we need it.

However, there is a lot of research data that shows the problematic use of the Internet by young children can be harmful.

For teenagers of today, the Internet was around for their whole young life.

They are growing up in an extremely connected world and the digital space is where they socialize and learn.

However, there are risks associated with this environment, and their development and education may suffer as a result.

Problematic Internet Use Is Closely Linked With Teen Depression

Does “Internet Addiction Disorder” Even Exist?

The term “Internet Addiction Disorder” was first coined by Dr. Ivan Goldberg in 1995, who compared it to pathological gambling.

It is also commonly referred to as Compulsive Internet Use (CIU) and Problematic Internet Use (PIU).

Things have gotten so bad that in 2008 China has identified “Internet Addiction Disorder” as a clinical disorder.

A recent 2016 study showed that roughly 10% of Chinese Internet users were severely addicted to the Internet.

In South Korea, almost 20% of the population, nearly 10 million people, are at serious Internet addiction risk.

South Korean authorities now provide services such as in-school counseling, screening surveys, and preventive training.

For severe cases, they have opened tech addiction rehabilitation facilities.

A director from one of the facilities says that more boys than girls are treated there.

Generally, the boys come for game addiction, while the girls are hooked on social media.

One of their main aims is to help students find a new hobby because they only use their phones when they have extra time.

Even though not officially classified in America and Europe, the prevalence of Internet Addiction Disorder in these first-world cultures is staggering.

It is reported to affect up to 8.2% of the general population.

However, some reports suggest that the real number might be as high as 38% of the general population.

This discrepancy in the prevalence rate might be because no standardized criteria have been selected for Internet Addiction Disorder.

It is researched differently among scientists and mental health professionals.

Plus, it is researched differently across ethnic cultures.

What Is Internet Addiction?

If you suffer from Internet Addiction Disorder, your brain makeup is similar to brains that suffer from a substance abuse problem, such as drugs or alcohol.

Over time, more and more of the activity is needed to induce the same pleasurable response, creating a dependency.

Addiction physically changes the brain structure known as the prefrontal cortex of the individual who is addicted.

There is a physical change that happens based on the fact that your brain has the ability to adapt.

The problem is that once your brain has adapted, then these changes become ingrained and difficult to change.

The brain’s impacted area is associated with remembering details, attention, planning, and prioritizing tasks.

In other words, these changes affect the individual’s ability to prioritize tasks in their life, rendering them unable to prioritize their life, meaning the Internet takes precedence over necessary life tasks.

Additionally, altered brain chemistry results in a progressive loss of impulse control and awareness of negative consequences.

Therefore, if you have an addiction problem, you need help – not punishment – to break the connection between your brain and technology.

Is My Teen Addicted To Technology?

The most commonly identified Internet Addiction categories include gaming, social networking, email, blogging, online shopping, and Internet pornography use.

Some researchers suggest that it is not the amount of time spent on the particularly troublesome Internet.

They argue that it’s how the Internet is being used that poses the greatest risk.

In other words, Internet use’s riskiness can be just as important as the amount of time spent.

We can describe Internet Addiction Disorder as:

  • a pattern of persistent or recurrent use of the Internet
  • that results in clinically significant impairment or distress
  • and that is indicated by three (or more) symptoms, occurring at least weekly for 3 months or longer

The simple questions below can be used as a guideline to determine if screen time is potentially harming your teen’s health.

  1. Are they playing video games on the Internet in excess?
  2. Can they not stop themselves compulsively checking Facebook or social accounts?
  3. Is their excessive use of devices interfering with their daily life – relationships or school?
  4. Do they get upset when you ask them to stop their screen activity?
  5. Do they have trouble completing their homework because they’re spending too much time on screens?
  6. Do they refuse to help with chores because they prefer to engage with a screen?
  7. Do you find them secretly on a screen after you told them to stop or take a break?
  8. Is your teen is not getting at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day?
  9. Would your teen rather play video games or watch YouTube videos than go outside and play with friends?
  10. Does your teen no longer enjoy any activity that does not involve screens?
  11. If restricted from using screens for a day, do they become restless, moody, depressed, or irritable?
  12. Has your teen previously made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop the use of the Internet?
  13. Does your child seem to be having a more difficult time regulating their emotions (also known as emotional dysregulation)?
  14. Does your teen seem more apathetic and get bored more easily?
  15. Does your teen always seem tired yet also wired? Also known as “wired & tired.”
  16. Do teachers complain that your child is falling asleep in school?

Specifically, at least one of the following must be present in a diagnosis of Internet Addiction Disorder:

  • They risked the loss of a significant relationship with friends or family, or an educational opportunity or beloved activity because of the Internet
  • They have lied to family members or others to hide time spent online
  • They use the Internet as a way of escaping from problems

You can use the free screening test below to find out if there is a possible problem:

Please note that this test should only be used as a guideline and a starting point to determine a problem.

If you suspect that a problem exists, then it’s always best to consult with a professional.

Internet Addiction Diagnostic Tests & Assessments

If you do seek professional help, then the tools used to help make a diagnosis of Internet Addiction Disorder include:

It is worth noting that many researchers are uncertain of whether Internet Addiction Disorder is a disorder in its own right or rather a symptom of other underlying conditions.

What makes it even more difficult is that internet usage is an integral part of our daily lives.

Therefore it becomes even more difficult to distinguish normal usage from problematic usage.

What Are The Treatment Options For Internet Addiction Disorder?

There is some debate over whether or not treatment is necessary in the first place.

Treatment can be necessary, though it largely depends on the individual.

Some people like Professor Kiesler argue that self-corrective behavior can be successful.

If the teen is unable to self-regulate time spent on screens, then parents can take further steps.

Interventions that start at home can include parental control apps that control the time spent on the Internet and the types of apps and sites that teens can access.

Most professionals agree that total, long-term abstinence from devices is not an effective treatment method.

So it is best to discuss and agree on a schedule and rules with your teen rather than banning device usage outright.

Problematic Internet Use (PIU) Study

A recent study published in the Child Development journal asked three questions:

  1. What were some of the predictors or determinants of Problematic Internet Use (PIU)?
  2. How did PIU change over the course of late adolescence, in this case, ages 16-19?
  3. And what are the consequences of PIU among the age group?

Key Takeaways

  • Factors that increase the risk for Problematic Internet Use are:
    • loneliness
    • paternal neglect
    • maternal care
    • depressive symptoms
    • being male
  • Depression, which has been linked in other studies is also a result of PIU.
  • Two other expected co-link results of Problematic Internet Use are lower academic achievement and substance abuse.

They found boys more likely to engage in Problematic Internet Use than girls, as they tend to be prone to more addictive-like behaviour, are more impulsive and, as suggested by other studies, may have more online options such as gaming or watching YouTube videos or pornography. Girls may be more likely to be online for socializing purposes.”

sciencedaily.com

The study does go on to say that spending a lot of time on the Internet does not have to be labeled problematic.

If it does not impact their mental health, behavior, or their grades, then we cannot label it as problematic behavior.

As parents, we need to be aware of the negative consequences and step in when necessary.

Teens will go through a period of heavy Internet use in the beginning.

If we help them set their own boundaries, goals and encourage other interests, then their usage should decrease as they mature.

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You might also like to read:
How Does Social Media Affect Teenagers?
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Written By

As a mom of two boys, I've been through the many ups and downs that parenting brings. However, I absolutely love reading and learning about better ways to communicate with my teens. I try to understand what they might be going through in their various stages of development. Communication, understanding, kindness, respect, and leading with love can help us maintain a positive bond with our children, from toddlers to teens and beyond.

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