Is Your Child Addicted to the Internet? Symptoms and Treatment

The rise and craze of smartphones, touch screen devices, video games, computer-simulated worlds, and social media has seemingly taken the world by storm. Children are spending more time than ever on their phones, tablets and iPads, video game consoles, and computers.

You might be wondering: is an Internet addiction really problematic? Isn’t that just the world kids live in today? Here are some sobering statistics:

  1. The age at which children are being exposed to and accessing pornography is younger than ever before. A study by the American Psychological Association reports first exposure to porn as young as 5 years old. Not to mention, the porn of today isn’t just a magazine found under mom and dad’s bed. This exposure is pornographic images and videos discovered online due to ease of access to the Internet and sexualized content/applications. In the hands of kindergarteners.

  2. Before the age of 18, 93% of boys and 62% of girls are exposed to pornography online, according to study published by the University of New Hampshire. Some sought it out intentionally, others happened upon the content involuntarily.

  3. Sex traffickers and pedophiles increasingly use social media to target and groom children. Organizations like Polaris Project shed light on this:

“The Internet has dramatically reshaped how we buy and sell everything – including each other. Social media has been used by traffickers to recruit victims, to proliferate their trafficking operations, and to control victims…”

  1. According to research done in 2017 by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, 42% of children own their own tablet device, compared to just 7% of children 4 years ago (2013). The same study found that young kids (ages 0-8) spend close to 1 hour per day on mobile devices alone, and up to 3 hours per day engaging in various forms of screen time.

  2. An article published by Wiley Online Library maintains that, interestingly enough, social media use can cause great amounts of stress in individuals, but found that those individuals remain addicted to the same social media as a coping mechanism or distraction from the stress caused by those very platforms, suggesting a profoundly toxic relationship between stress caused by and addiction to social networking sites.

  3. Social media sites such as Snapchat are being used to exploit children for prostitution and sex trafficking, according to recent reports. Children are increasingly encouraged to use apps like PornHub.

  4. Internet addiction (IA) directly impacts child and adolescent sleep, according to a 2016 study. IA causes decreased sleep duration during the night, increased need for sleep, and disrupted circadian rhythms.

These stats only scratch the surface, unfortunately. While the Internet has opened us up to a world of connection and information we would not have had access to otherwise, it has come with unintended consequences we need to be aware of and address accordingly.

Parents of today are feeling out of touch and out of control. They are left wondering if their child is addicted to the Internet, if they’re being safe online, and what families can do about it.

What is Internet Addiction? Signs and Symptoms

Definition

Internet addiction (IA) is defined by the following, according to diagnostic criteria found in research regarding IA:

  1. Individual is preoccupied with the Internet (thinks about last online activity and anticipates next encounter)

  2. Individual requires increased amount of time with the Internet in order to achieve satisfaction

  3. Individual has made unsuccessful attempts to control or lessen Internet use

  4. Individual stays online longer than intended

Additionally, one or more of the following must be present to be officially diagnosed as an “addiction:”

  1. User has compromised or jeopardized a relationship, job, or educational/career opportunity as a result of Internet use

  2. User has lied to family members, mental health professional, or others to conceal use

  3. User engages with Internet use as a means of escaping problems or relieving negative feelings (such as depression, helplessness, guilt or anxiety)

Most likely, the majority of us have experienced one or more of the above criteria at one time or another in our Internet use. However, if you find yourself nodding along with the majority of this list, it may be time to take pause and reevaluate your child, adolescent, or teen’s technology use.

Signs and Symptoms

We get it, the psychological definition of addiction isn’t super helpful when you’re trying to determine if your teen has a more flourishing relationship with their phone than with you. Below you’ll find relatable signs and symptoms to look for:

Behavioral:

  1. Lack of engagement in activities once enjoyed

  2. Majority of waking hours spent online

  3. Anger or other negative reaction to being pulled away from device

  4. Lying or concealing Internet use

Physical:

  1. Fatigue

  2. Lack of sleep or sleeplessness (insomnia)

  3. Abnormal aches and pains

  4. Digestive problems

  5. Lack of hygiene, change in appearance

  6. Weight loss or weight gain

Mental:

  1. Lack of concentration

  2. Difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy

  3. Poor memory

Social:

  1. Irritability

  2. Social isolation

  3. Difficulty maintaining employment

  4. Academic difficulties

  5. Strained interpersonal relationships

Social Media Use

If this article’s introductory paragraph wasn’t enough of a wake up call, here’s the truth about what your children, adolescents, and teens are doing on the Internet:

Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Youtube, and now TikTok?

Every time we think there aren’t more ways to be intrinsically connected on the Internet, another platform or application emerges and proves us wrong. According to the Pew Research Center for Internet & Technology (2018), 95% of teens have access to a smartphone, and 45% say they are online “almost constantly.”

Parents should again be warned that it can be dangerous for young children to utilize these platforms. Regulation and censorship of social media platforms are negligible at best, and children are not only exposed to sexually explicit and mature content, they are being exploited, asked for nude photos, and trafficked.

Follow #SaveTheKids’ leader and spokesperson, Collin Kartchner for updates and information on the dark world of child pornography, sex trafficking, and adolescent depression being funded and encouraged by platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok.

One teen is quoted on his Instagram page admitting the following:

“I downloaded Snapchat… WORST DECISION OF MY LIFE. The amount of pornography that was thrown at me without me asking for it was RIDICULOUS. My anxiety levels, depression, and overall mental health plummeted.”

Parents of children, adolescents, and teens using social media platforms and apps like Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok should be warned: not only can your child become addicted to the Internet/their phone, but this usage can be a gateway to other addictions, such as pornography and self-harm.

Additionally, it should be no surprise to parents that their children are experimenting with their sexuality online, since in-person contact and communication seems to be a thing of the past. Be aware that children of today use their devices to sext, access platforms such as PornHub, and even begin dating relationships.

Treatment and Recovery

If you are concerned about your teen’s Internet use, it may be time to move from “this is the world they live in” to “my child’s mental health is on the line.”

Here’s the good news: there’s no one better fit for the job than your child’s parent… you! No matter what your relationship with your child, adolescent or teen looks like, you can become an advocate and source of healing.

The first step toward recovery from an Internet addiction is establishing with your child that you are “in their corner.” Have an honest, open-ended and nonjudgmental conversation about your concerns, and ensure your child, adolescent, or teenager that you care for them. Ask lots of questions and remain gentle in your approach.

Counseling/Therapy

A great place to start when pain, addiction, or mental health struggles have taken over one’s life is with a licensed mental health counselor. These professionals are trained to walk with individuals through their trauma and story, toward emotional and mental breakthrough.

A licensed counselor or therapist will help your child:

  1. Establish better coping mechanisms for stress and sadness

  2. Name the pain they’re experiencing

  3. Acknowledge patterns of addiction and troublesome behavior

  4. Create a safety plan and set goals for the future

  5. Reclaim their inner peace and happiness

  6. Rewrite unhealthy narratives and uncover lies they believe about themselves

Other Therapeutic Interventions

  1. Medication may be prescribed as a means of managing underlying mental illness until the addiction can be fully addressed and healed

  2. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

  3. Group therapy (lest you think your teen is the only one suffering from an Internet addiction)

  4. Exercise, art, music, and other technology-free therapeutic tools

Treatment Centers

If your teen’s behaviors and mental health feel as though they’re completely out of control, and your child’s medical team agrees, a treatment center may be your next step toward freedom from Internet addiction. Treatment centers offer intensive, one-on-one and group therapy, as well as life coaching and a safe place to learn healthier life choices and coping skills.

Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center is proud to offer a robust recovery curriculum that encourages tangible life skills, counseling, education, and different therapeutic interventions to help your teen heal and thrive. In addition, our program offers aftercare treatment for your child’s transition back home. 

Fire Mountain is a space where troubled teens are taught the tools to allow them the opportunity to transform into more responsible, thoughtful, and confident people. Using the latest rehabilitation innovations in treatment, along with traditional methods proven to be effective, our troubled teen program’s goal is long-term healing, recovery, and success for all teens and their families. Let us help your teen find the path to becoming their best self.

You don’t have to do it alone. Reach out today to hear more about Fire Mountain’s proven interventions for your troubled teen.

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