(Family Magazine October 2010 1st Issue)
Agnes Ip | Christine Wu
As technology becomes more advanced, and more gadgets are readily available, iPod, iPhone, iPad……It is no surprise that most people, especially teenagers having easy access to these gadgets. Most people might even have more than one on a regular basis. Meanwhile, social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter have become one of the main social communication channels. As “logging on” becomes a habitual behavior, internet addiction is inevitable.
What is Internet Addiction?
In 1996 Dr. Kimberly Young presented the first research paper on Internet Addiction. She characterized the concept of internet addiction as an impulse control disorder on using the internet. She further suggested that the pathology of internet addiction shared some common characteristics of pathological gambling disorder. Internet addiction interferes with normal living and causes severe stress on family, friends, loved ones, and one’s work environment. Currently, internet addiction is not included in the DSM-IV – TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.) However, this problem is serious enough that it is being considered to be included in the next DSM-V.
How do you know if you or your child has Internet Addiction (IA)?
Dr. Young developed the Internet Addiction Diagnostic Questionnaire (IADQ.) The following are the criteria for diagnosing Internet Addiction. Meeting five of the symptoms would be considered as having internet addiction. (www.netaddiction.com)
- Preoccupation with the Internet (previous online activities or anticipation of the next log on)
- Increasing amount of time of use to achieve satisfaction
- Unsuccessful attempts to control and cut back
- Restlessness, moodiness, depression, and irritability caused by the cut back of use
- Staying online longer than expected
- Risking significant relationships, job, education, and/or career opportunities
- Lying to family members, therapists, and others about the use of internet
- Using internet as escape from problems and/ or relieving unhappy feelings
If you are interested, you can have a self test on the following website. Parents can also use the questionnaire to assess their children.
What causes Internet Addiction?
Clinical psychologist Dr. Melvin Wong said, life is not meant to be alone. Everyone has an innate desire to depend on others and be accepted by others. When there is a lack of healthy communication in a family or interaction between parents and children, children do not easily feel loved by their parents. As a result, children would not see that they are cared for and accepted. Children would attempt to use the internet to fill the void in their hearts. On the internet, they find themselves admired and accepted by others. Their identities can be kept anonymous. Therefore, they can be whoever they desire to be and do whatever pleases their hearts. As time goes on, they naturally become internet addicts. (Seminar from Dr. Melvin Wong on “Teenager’s Internet Addiction, How to avoid & overcome” 6/11/2010)
According to Agnes Ip, a licensed marriage family therapist, what internet addicts do is that they substitute unhealthy relationships for healthy ones. They choose temporary gratification to replace the lack of the true intimate relationships. If internet addicts attempt to curb their behaviors by cutting back or stopping the use of the internet but they fail to do so, they would experience a loss of control. Consequently, they would suffer from low self-esteem and feel the pressing need to escape. This powerless feeling would fuel into their addictive behavior further.
What are the Immediate Physical Effects of Internet Addiction?
Teenagers are generally not concerned about their health. At their young age, they feel invincible and immune to illnesses. Dr. David Phan, a Chiropractic doctor, reminds us that if teenagers spend hours in front of the computer, they will soon develop symptoms that result from prolong sitting, such as:
* Poor Posture
* Neck Pain
* Back Pain
* Muscle weakness
* Lack of muscle tone
* Lack of bone strength
* Lack of coordination
* Lack of E.Q. (Emotional Quotient)
* Early onset of degeneration of thumbs and fingers joints
Physical activity is vital for the development of the growing body of a teenager. The bones and muscles need constant stimulation and stress to grow properly and reach their full potential. There is a direct relationship between internet addiction and monitor addiction. Monitor addiction occurs when one fixates his mind and body to the point that he /she is oblivious to everything and everyone around him/ her. Today, we see many teenagers lacking social skills and ability to relate to people effectively, and isolation and alienation results.
Physical inactivity can also lead to serious health issues. But since these effects are not immediately noticeable, teenagers are not scared by these warnings. However, parents need to be aware of silent killers such as:
* Heart disease
* High blood pressure
* Type 2 diabetes
* Colon cancer
* Premature death
How to Prevent Internet Addiction?
Dr. Melvin Wong emphasizes that building a truly healthy and intimate relationship between parents and children is of utmost importance. Parents need to accept their children regardless of their performance. They should always encourage when the child fails, and always care when the child is sick or is in need. They should try to understand instead of nagging. Maintaining a healthy marriage is also important. When parents fight, children tend to be stressful and would avoid the situations by turning themselves to the internet.
Dr. Phan suggests that when the children are young, it is important for parents to play with their children. They need to keep the children active and plan for activities such as basketball, tennis, or hiking. The best way of keeping children away from the computer is to provide fun and creative alternatives.
Internet addiction is a complicated issue. Please seek professional help for more assistance and treatment.
Q & A
Q: My children are constantly on the computer. They say they are doing homework and they also have to chat online with their friends about homework. Is it ok to allow them so much time on the computer?
A: Nowadays, children at every grade level are encouraged by their schools to use the computer for homework. Much of the collaboration for projects with their friends is also done through the computer.
However, I suspect that homework on the computer is taking a lot longer than it needs to be. Two hours of actual homework time expands to five with all the distractions of surfing other sites and chatting with their friends off topic.
I suggest you keep the computer in the room where you are most often, such as the family room. This way, you can spend as much time as you can near your children to keep an eye on what they’re doing. If they are trying to hide the screen from you, you will need to exert more controls.
Limiting the amount of time your children spend on the computer will help them stay on task with their homework. Depending on the age of your children, allow them between one to four hours to do their homework on the computer. When they know there is a time limit, they will work more efficiently.