Teens and Internet Addiction

The Internet has connected the world in new ways never before thought possible. It is like a wonderful store that stays open all night long. Whenever you are on, someone is always up answer your questions.

Any type of information is at your fingertips. If you can’t find it in a book, you are assured that you will find it on the Internet. That doesn’t only go for information. You can find almost any product or service that you can think of in cyberspace. People trade goods and services every day for small change or big bucks.

But, the sea of possibilities also hides a lot of underwater monsters. There are drawbacks to using the Internet and having such “freedom.” The downside is that evil lurks there and some of the things you can find are better left alone.

It is a world of unseemly things. There is child pornography, adult pornography, child predators and fantasy worlds that suck us into their reality. And, not only adults are susceptible to this world, but children as well. Teens are using the Internet as an outlet for their lives and getting lost there.

In this report, you will learn about Internet addiction in teens and how bad it really can be. As a parent, you are not alone or without power. You can help your child once you learn to recognize the signs of their addiction. Sometimes it begins with you when it comes to breaking the cycle.

What Is Internet Addiction?

About 20 years ago, people still used bag cellular phones and laptops were quite expensive. Now, you can find phones that do everything from store documents to conducting conference calls to surfing the Web. As far as computers go, they are more affordable so that every home has at least one.

Internet service provider companies compete for business with unbelievable deals. You can get connected to the World Wide Web for as little as $9.99 per month. The entire world has opened up and is on display.

Underneath that exterior lurks a deeper problem. Once we were concerned only about drugs and alcohol and our children. Now it is addictions of a different kind – addiction to the Internet.

Pediatricians and psychiatrists told us that our children were watching too much television and needed fresh air. Now, everyone, including those professionals, is on the Internet and the concern is not as great.

The Internet is fascinating. It is easy to log on and lose track of time. How many of us have done that before? But, Internet addiction goes a little deeper.
Have you ever seem someone who was addicted to an illicit drug? They will do anything to get it and use it. A parent, a child or a friend can turn into a stranger before your eyes under its influence. They would sell themselves, their possessions and their very soul to get what they crave.

Internet addiction is similar and it is affecting our teens in increasing numbers. The medical community doesn’t consider it to be a true addiction but it still occurs nonetheless. Could the Internet be stealing your child?

The Signs

Now, before you panic unnecessarily, all children and teens are not at risk for Internet addiction. Some kids only have a passing interest in the Internet. This was the same with television. There are kids who would rather be outside in the fresh air than cooped up in the house sitting in front of the tube.

There are also teens that have a passing fancy with the Internet. It’s the same when you discover something that is new and fascinating. For a time, you are engrossed in it non-stop to see what it is all about. Eventually, the glamour wears off and you may use the computer from time to time but you can let it go if you had to. You are more attached to your cell phone than the computer.

For some teens, there is a profound “parent/child disconnect.” This is nothing new. Parents and children have always had generational gap challenges, but the communication was such that it could be overcome. In the world we live in today, there are so many things vying for our attention that sometimes, the ones we love go unnoticed when they need us most.

These are the teens that are most at risk for Internet addiction. There are problems in their real lives that they would rather leave behind. It could be a difficult home situation: divorce, abuse, miscommunication, neglect or even boredom. As parents work more and more to make ends meet in the tough economy, kids are left to their own devices after school. Lack of supervision can always begin a recipe for disaster.
Even more than that is the fact that these kids feel alone. The problem could be at school. They have no friends or are different from others. Troubles with grades or fitting in can drive them to seek acceptance anywhere that they can.

Kids are still good at keeping secrets. When something is wrong, they can hide it from parents, teachers and other adults for a long time before things come to a head. If we aren’t looking, we will surely miss the signs.

Teens are more susceptible to outside influences such as those on the Internet. From adolescence to the age of eighteen, they are in a fierce search for who they really are and what that means for their future. They go through many phases and stages in this process. People and places they find on the Internet can also lead them to change in ways that can be dangerous.

What Should Look For To Determine if My Teen is Suffering from Internet Addiction?

* Spending long hours on the Internet. Losing track of time when they are “on.”
* Feelings of guilt for spending so much time on the Internet
* Spending less and less time communicating with family and friends in favor of online chat rooms and websites
* Problems at school or dropping grades as a result of time spent on the Internet
* Sneaking around to get connected
* Attitude changes when told that they can’t spend as much time as they want on the Internet
* Always asking to use the computer instead of participating in other activities

Teens do occasionally become withdrawn because that is what they do. At the first sign, take note of any other changes in behavior. Alone it may mean nothing, but if they are spending plenty of time on the computer it could be Internet addiction.
Parents don’t fool yourselves. Your child may be a good student but every time that they are on the computer it is not to do research. They are allowed to have some leisure time and surf for clothing, entertainment or to chat with friends, but they will still remain well adjusted otherwise.

For the teens affected by Internet addiction, it becomes a substitute reality for them. When the real world doesn’t make sense, they can slip into a virtual one that can take the form of anything they so desire. Many teens play multiplayer role-playing games. The graphics are so real, that they can disappear into kingdoms and castles. These games have forums and chats so you can meet others who are into the game.
Here, what they look like doesn’t matter. No one cares if the parents or divorced or fighting. Physical or sexual abuse fades away. Make no mistake; this world is a substitute that they won’t give up easily.

The Symptoms

Whenever you see your child, they are always on the computer. This can be the beginning of the problem. A laptop is easily mobile. When you look for it and your child has it behind closed doors, it can be another warning sign.

Despite what is going on in your child’s life, the one constant seems to be their time on the Internet. They can go for hours on end without talking to you or anyone else in the family as long as they are connected to the Internet. Your teen may even forget to eat at times.

Another symptom is trouble completing chores and handling responsibility. Do you have to ask more than once for them to clean their rooms or pick up their clothes? Even when they do complete their chores it is done quickly so that they can get back to the computer.

Physically, the symptoms may be harder to spot if you are not keenly aware of the changes in your child. They can develop carpal tunnel syndrome from the repetitive motions that come with playing online games and typing messages in chat rooms. Sleep patterns are erratic because they stay up longer or get up earlier to have uninterrupted time on the computer.

Other physical changes include:

* Poor hygiene
* Lack of appetite
* Headaches from staring at the computer screen
* Back pain
* Eye issues

Internet Dangers

Not everything that a child goes through will they “grow out of.” As parents, this is what others tell us when it seems that strange behavior is coming out of nowhere. Don’t misunderstand. This is not a blame game.

Parents are not the enemy and neither are teachers or other professionals. Sometimes, things happen. As a parent, we are the ones who are charged with taking the lead in our families. Despite busy schedules, it is important to stay connected with our kids especially through the teenage years. The attention that we forget to give will be provided elsewhere.

That leads to the topic of child predators. They are not pedophiles sitting behind closed doors in spooky looking houses. They are businesspeople, medical professionals, law enforcement and the man or woman down the street. Because they look like us, it is harder to spot them.

The Internet has furthered their criminal behavior. They can hide in plain sight and communicate with our kids without our knowledge. Everyone in those chat rooms or forums that are populated by teens is not a kid. Adults pretend to be kids and learn how to blend in so that they can prey on susceptible boys and girls who need someone in their lives to care about them.

Conversations can begin innocently. One child talks about their home life or school. The other responds that they understand. It can go on like this for weeks until the predator has gained the trust of the child.

When they are hooked, then he or she asks questions of a sexual nature. They may want to meet and get to know them. Of course, they will suggest a time or place where parents are not available. Some teens leave their home and travel many miles to meet someone using cash sent to them by that person.

Dateline NBC aired a series called “To Catch a Predator.” They highlighted through a series of undercover sting operations how easy it is for these child predators to gain access to your children. Some even showed up at the home expecting sex from a minor.
Escalating behavior and secrecy from your teen could signify that they have met someone on the Internet. The person could be telling them to hide evidence of their conversations and any transactions.

Even kids who are not being lured away can still become victims of child predators. On social websites, kids are too free with the information that they post and also with photos. You never know where a picture will turn up once it is posted in cyberspace. Someone could be stalking them.

This is all a part of the danger of Internet addiction. There are people waiting to bait your child and pretend to meet their needs with the intention of hurting them. Even pre-teens are finding the Internet to be addictive. Parents are up in arms about the lack of safety measures on sites like MySpace and YouTube. Kids post videos using their webcams that can be picked up by pedophilic networks.

Teens themselves are also curious about things of a sexual nature at their age. The Internet is full of accessible pornographic sites where they can view videos and live web cams. They can develop a false sense of intimacy and love from these sites and turn to them out of curiosity or sexual gratification.

It is a scary world but you don’t have to let it take hold of your child. As long as they are still talking, it is not too late to make a change that can benefit both of you.

The Solution: What Parents Can Do

When you notice that your child is displaying behavior out of the norm, refuse to chalk it up to “teenage angst.” As a parent, you owe it to yourself to talk to your child and check it out. It could be a misunderstanding but you won’t know for sure unless you investigate.

Resist the urge to sneak around behind their backs. As a parent, you have a right to know what is going on in your kid’s lives. They live under your roof.

Set up house rules regarding television and Internet usage. Restrictions on use are better than banning it entirely if you think something is wrong. When you stop them from using the Internet, they will simply find another place to get on. Libraries have computers hooked to the Internet as do public colleges. They can easily go to a friend’s home to do “homework” and continue to feed their Internet addiction.
How are you conducting yourself on the Internet? Kids learn by example. If you are prone to lose track of time surfing questionable websites or social networking sites, they will too.

Use this report to determine if your child is showing signs of Internet addiction. Think long and hard about situations you may have overlooked as isolated incidents. Are their grades slipping in school? Do they spend most of their time in the house whereas they used to spend it with friends? It may be time for a heart to heart talk.
Keep your computer in a neutral area such as the family room. When kids have research or homework that requires the computer, let them use it in their rooms but only as long as the door is left open. Even though they are teenagers, a kid with nothing to hide may squawk but only briefly. An Internet addict will give you more trouble.
Establish family time. Come together to participate in activities that don’t include television or the computer. Play board games, go out to dinner, go for a bike ride or a hike; simply spend time talking honestly about your issues. Teenagers shouldn’t be living a sedentary lifestyle. This is the time for them to embrace life and interact with family and friends.

Show an interest in your child’s hobbies and interests. Get involved and stay involved in their lives. Sure, as a growing individual, they deserve a modicum of respect. Knock before entering their room and ask them questions instead of making judgments or insinuations. But, let them know that you are the parent and deserve their respect and honesty as well.

Install monitoring software on your computers. Tell your kids that it is there. This is not to scare them into using another computer but to let them know that you care and want them to be safe on the Internet.

How to Get Help

If you suspect that your teen is addicted to the Internet, don’t panic. Your first line of defense is always open communication. Try to talk to them. Don’t lead the conversation but take your lead from them.

Seek help from a qualified professional. Psychiatrists are available for individual and group sessions. If you think that your teen won’t listen to you or you don’t know how to say what you feel, this person can help you. Use them as a mediator to help you connect with your child and get to the bottom of the issues that may have led to Internet addiction.

This is an intervention of sorts. You are not there to gang up on your teen but to help them become aware of their addiction. The counselor can assess if it is in fact Internet addiction and what has brought it on. It is best to go into a counseling session without pre-conceived notions.

Don’t automatically think that you are in the wrong and your child is in the right. The counselor is there to help and may point out what both parties can do to change the situation. The primary concern is saving your child.

Follow up on the solutions offered in the sessions. Help your teen to develop other interests other than the Internet. Participate with them instead of sending them off alone. Above all, keep the line of communication open.

If the addiction is serous enough, your psychiatrist may suggest other forms of therapy like cognitive behavior therapy or hypnotherapy. These techniques will teach your teen how to view their problems and deal with them more constructively. Hypnotherapy can reveal past issues that could be affecting your teen now.

Internet addiction is not to be taken lightly. It is a real problem that could be affecting your teen. All teenagers are not at risk but conditions like depression, low self-esteem, family issues and the like can put them in the high risk category. Even in this busy world, strive to keep the lines of communication open with your teen so that signs and symptoms don’t go unnoticed.

If you cannot handle the situation, seek help from a professional who deals with addictions. They can offer resources and courses of treatment to help your teen and your family to get back on the right track. Don’t let the parent/child disconnect be your reality. Remember, it is not about blame but getting help.

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