Is your teen addicted to the Internet?

One of the most common concerns from parents of teens, behind drug use, is Internet addiction.

It would be difficult, if not impossible, to find a college campus or schools that don’t have Internet. College students and teens use the Internet for research, communication, and other educational activities. Of course, students also use the Internet for social media, news, and even online gambling, activities that can be fun and even enriching, but when overused, become a real problem.

Some college students suffer from Internet addiction, unable to step away from the computer or put down mobile devices even for a day. Eighty-four percent of college counselors agree that Internet Addiction Disorder is legitimate, but at the same time, 93% of them have not been fully trained to diagnose Internet addiction, and 94% have insufficient training for Internet addiction treatment. The result? Falling grades, physical problems, and even clinical addiction.

Internet addiction is a real problem for college students and teens today, and here are several trends that are worrisome.

1.     Students have feelings similar to drug and alcohol addiction: Two hundred students were asked to abstain from all media for 24 hours, and were then asked to blog about their experiences. The words the students used to describe their feelings during the restriction period were typically the same words associated with a substance abuse addiction: "withdrawal, frantically craving, very anxious, antsy, miserable, jittery, crazy." It seems that these students are addicted to media, particularly in its online form. This is disturbing, but not surprising, as studies have already shown that Google can actually change your brain.
2.     College students are especially susceptible to Internet Behavior Dependence:A college student case study revealed that college students are a "population of special concern" when it comes to Internet addiction, and they are disproportionately vulnerable due to psychological and environmental factors in their lives. When faced with an Internet addiction, college students have a hard time forming their identity and building intimate relationships. Online, students can "develop relationships devoid of the anxiety found in face-to-face relationships," and they "can take on any persona they desire, without fear of judgment on appearance or personal mannerism, and can avoid racial and gender prejudice." This type of adaptive behavior tends to diminish the social capacity of college students, leaving them unprepared for the development of real world relationships.

3.      Online poker is prevalent on college campusesOnline poker joins two addictions together: gambling and online interaction, so its use on college campuses is especially worrisome. The University of Pennsylvania predicts that over 20% of college students play online poker at least once a month, and you can typically see lots of students playing online poker on a college campus. Although it can be a fun game, and many students may be able to maintain healthy lives while enjoying playing online poker, some simply can’t. At the University of Pennsylvania, researchers noted that among college gamblers that played weekly, over half of them had a serious problem with the habit. In some cases, students fail out of classes or gamble their tuition away, even turning to crime to pay debts created by online poker.

4.     Students can’t go 24 hours without the Internet:When 1,000 college students took part in an international study on electronic media, they were asked to go without media for 24 hours. But many students in the study were not up to the challenge. A majority of students did not actually go without media for 24 hours, giving in and checking in with their phones or email.  Students confessed, "I sat in my bed and stared blankly. I had nothing to do," and "Media is my drug; without it I was lost. How could I survive 24 hours without it?" The study revealed a physical dependency on media, especially Facebook and mobile phones. Students recognized that typing the address for their favorite sites had become muscle memory: "It was amazing to me though how easily programmed my fingers were to instantly start typing "f-a-c-e" in the search bar. It’s now muscle memory, or instinctual, to log into Facebook as the first step of Internet browsing." Other students recognized physical signs of withdrawal, sharing that "I would feel irritable, tense, restless and anxious when I could not use my mobile phone. When I couldn’t communicate with my friends, I felt so lonely, as if I was in a small cage in a solitary island."

5.     Students are surfing, not studying: Students who spend a lot of time online are likely to neglect their studies. In many cases, students who performed well in school before developing an Internet addiction allowed their grades to crash, only then realizing the impact of Internet dependency. Counselors across the US have identified the problems of excessive Internet use, including: lack of sleep and excess fatigue, declining grades, less investment in relationships with a boyfriend or girlfriend, withdrawal from all campus social activities and events, general apathy, edginess, or irritability when off-line, and rationalizing that what they learn on the Internet is superior to their classes. Students may not realize the problem until serious trouble happens: "They flunk out of college. Their real-life girlfriend breaks up with them because all they ever want to do is play on the Net. Their parents explode when they find out their huge investment in their child’s college education is going to support all-night Internet sessions." By then, it may be too late to recover the damage.

6.     The Internet is everywhere: Ninety-eight percent of students own a digital device. This prevalence throws gasoline on a spark: students who are already susceptible to Internet addiction have access online in computer labs, their dorm, and other places around campus, and on top of that, they have the Internet in their pocket at all times. Knowing this, it’s not surprising to find out that 38% of students say they can’t go more than 10 minutes without using a digital device, contributing to an ever-present existence of the Internet on campus.

7.     Internet use can physically change your brain:  In a study of Chinese college students who were online for 10 hours a day, six days a week, morphological changes in the structure of their brains were noted. Scientists found reductions in the size of the "dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, rostral anterior cingulate cortex, supplementary motor area and parts of the cerebellum as high as 10-20%." Although at the same time, there was an increase in the "density of the right parahippocampal gyrus and a spot called the left posterior limb of the internal capsule." These changes happen to the detriment of short term memory and decision-making abilities.

8.     Many students need intervention and treatment for their addiction, and it can lead to depression: We might joke about "Crackberries," but for some, the Internet is truly a significant concern. A study published in BMC Medicine indicated that 4% of the students who participated in their survey met the criteria for having a problem with online addiction. But perhaps the more disturbing fact from this study is that there is a "significant association between pathological Internet use and depression in college students," putting a population that is already at risk for mental instability in a precarious position.

9.     Cyberbullies go to college, too:Although most of the news on cyberbullying focuses on adolescents, the fact is that cyberbullies exist on the college campus as well. It’s not surprising, considering how much time students spend online, and how much impact a college student’s online presence can have. In fact, a University of New Hampshire study reported that one in 10 students was abused online. College students have been the target of sexually violent rants, and one professor at BU had to persuade Facebook to remove his page, which he did not set up himself. Researchers believe that students are especially vulnerable to cyberstalking because "they live in a relatively closed community where class schedules, phones, and e-mails are easy to find." And sites like Rate My Professors may be helpful for students choosing classes, but some comments may be hurtful for faculty members. Thierry Guedj, adjunct professor of psychology at Metropolitan College reports, "It really hurts faculty members badly when they read these things about themselves online. People have become quite depressed about it."

10.  Tech conditions can be dangerous to your health: College Candy’s list of tech conditions that can be dangerous to your health seems to be written as a joke, citing "Blackberry Neck," and "Glazey Dazey Lazy Eye," but these conditions really can be a problem. Using the Internet too much can lead to a sedentary lifestyle, a decline in physical fitness, and as a result, weight gain. Heavy users report carpal tunnel syndrome, eye strain, and headaches. Sleep disturbances can also stem from Internet addiction, as Internet use may lead to later bedtimes and less restful sleep. Additionally, researchers believe that the light from computer screens may affect circadian rhythms, creating a risk factor for insomnia.


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