Is Internet Addiction Real?

Two young children, playing on computers, back to back.

18 Apr Is Internet Addiction Real?

A common concern we hear parents express relates to the amount of time their children spend on screens—phones, computers, television. What parent hasn’t encountered resistance from a child connected to a screen when they are asked to come to the dinner table or to begin homework?

Children themselves sometimes refer to the irresistible urge to check their mobile device as an “addiction.” Parents use the term to express the worry they feel about their child being involved in unhealthy activities, and their feeling of powerlessness to intervene.

However, addiction in its true sense causes chemical changes within the body that require higher levels of stimulation to continue functioning. No one needs more and more screen time to be functional. Understandably, there is concern when screen time begins to edge out other appropriate off-line activities like socializing with friends, homework, family time, hygiene and sleep.

Some of these age-appropriate activities legitimately take place now on social platform screens. While a generation ago teens spent hours talking on the telephone, today those interactions take place on social media. In addition, some homework is assigned to be done on the internet where there is a world of information available with a mouse-click. Watching movies or TV on a mobile device is commonplace for our children today.

A 2016 report by Common Sense Media concluded: “What looks like excessive use and distraction is actually a reflection of new ways of maintaining peer relations and engaging in communities that are relevant to them.”

There are certainly pitfalls in too much screen time. Anxiety and depression rooted in unfavorable comments on social media; impaired cognitive functioning and decreased learning from using social media, texting and watching TV while doing homework; excessive gaming, which can lead to a higher incidence of social isolation, anxiety and substance use; and superficial engagement in daily tasks.

Parents are key in guiding their children to set appropriate boundaries about screen time to ward off excess, and to ensure that a healthy balance between screen time and face-to-face interaction, in-depth, focused think time and routines of self-care are included.

NEXT TIME: “Multitasking – the Myth and the Truth”