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Parenting a teenager today means navigating through what feels like uncharted territory because of the influence of technology. In the past, parents had to worry about the dangers of drug and alcohol addiction, but at least those were fairly simple to keep out of their home. Now, the internet is found everywhere, from libraries to schools and your teen’s phone. With such easy access, it is easy to see why internet addiction has become a thing, and you can use these strategies to help your child learn how to manage their screen time.
Recognize the Signs
Internet addiction starts subtly with teens simply spending more time online. At first, you may just think that they have found a new group of friends or are passionately researching a recently acquired interest. Over time, however, the signs that it is interfering with their life will slowly start to appear. As your teen’s addiction to the internet begins to get serious, you may start to notice the following signs.
Preoccupation with the internet such as anxiously awaiting their next online chat session or constantly checking their social media accounts
• Need to be online for increasing amounts of time to maintain the same level of satisfaction
• Withdrawal symptoms such as moodiness and depression when they are forced to cut back on their screen time
• Accidentally staying online longer than expected such as staying up all night or missing an important event due to their internet activities
• Drop in academic performance
• Decreased personal hygiene, although an increased interest in appearance also occurs if a teen is involved with video chatting
• Lies about how much time they are on the internet
- Seek Professional Support
As with any addiction, early recognition of the symptoms means that treatment can begin before it gets worse. Typically, teens with an internet addiction struggle with seeing how their time online is affecting their lifestyle. This is because they may feel as though they have more friends than they ever did before, or they may try to justify their actions by believing that researching online is a learning opportunity. Your teen may also claim that they could be doing worse things such as drugs. Since they are usually sitting safely within their home, teens with internet addiction often take longer than other teens to admit that there is a problem. For this reason, professional therapists often begin treatment by helping teens see the negative effects of their addiction. For example, learning that being online all night is contributing to their bad grades helps them get on board with ending their addiction.
Treat Coexisting Mental Health Conditions
Teens become addicted to the internet for a variety of reasons. For some, it offers a way to meet other people despite having social anxiety. Other teens may use the internet as a route to escape the pain of grieving or the apathy of depression. Figuring out your teen’s triggers for using the internet will often reveal other mental health conditions. Treating these conditions is critical for helping your teen successfully beat their addiction.
Encourage Healthy Recreational Opportunities
Once your teen has completed their treatment for internet addiction, they will need your help finding ways to fill their time. In their program, they learned how to utilize their interests to find recreational activities such as acting in a play or hiking in the mountains that reduce their drive to go online. Encourage your child to continue to explore their new interests, and plan special activities to keep them on track. For example, enrolling them in an art class or planning a family camping trip will help your teen remember that offline experiences can be even better than anything they can find online.
The internet brought to the world wonderful ways to connect and learn. Yet, many teens are falling prey to the vices of internet addiction. When you suspect there is a problem, it is important to go with your instincts and seek help because this type of addiction quickly spirals out of control. By recognizing that internet addiction is indeed real and seeking support, your teen can learn to manage their impulses through healthy activities that support their development.