Identifying the Issue of Internet Addiction Among Teens

The internet and computers are ingrained tools that help ease lives and allow resources to remain readily accessible to society. While these tools can be used for pleasantries, such as sharing a funny status on Facebook or uploading cute videos of your dog on TikTok, some can’t find a balance between enjoying life online and offline. This lack of balance creates issues for users’ mental health, becoming what’s classified as internet addiction.

Internet addiction is an issue that is becoming detrimental, specifically to teenagers. In an article published by the Pew Research Center, their survey discovered that 95 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds have access to a smartphone, and 46 percent of teens say they are “almost constantly” online. That’s up from 24 percent eight years ago. 

Pew researchers surveyed 1,316 teens in April 2022. More than half (54 percent) said it would be difficult for them to give up social media, especially for the older respondents ages 15 to 17.

Speaking with Jewel McGowan, a Ypsilanti licensed professional counselor and general practitioner psychotherapist, she explained how this behavior is a direct definition of internet addiction.

“Internet addiction is a clinically impulsive behavior.” McGowan said. “There’s a loss of control and an inability to manage and monitor the amount you’re using it. Internet addiction is in the addictive category, especially when it’s destructive and causes teens to not complete homework and remain socially isolated.” 

According to Addictioncenter.com, there are five different variations of internet addiction. Including cybersex addiction, net compulsions, cyber (online) relationship addiction, compulsive information seeking and computer or gaming addiction. 

A cybersex addiction involves an addition to online pornography and other adult online content. 

People struggling with net compulsions partake in interactive activities online that can be harmful to themselves and their bank account. Examples of these activities include, online gambling, trading stocks, online auctions (such as eBay), and compulsive online shopping.

Cyber (online) relationship addiction involves being deeply involved with finding and maintaining online relationships. In many cases, addicts neglect real-life family and friends. 

Compulsive information seeking is when people are overly tempted by the amount of data that can be found on the internet and have an uncontrollable urge to gather information. 

People with computer addiction, sometimes referred to as computer gaming addiction, are addicted to online and offline activities that can be done with a computer. 

For teens struggling with any variation of these internet addictions, McGowan explained that internet addiction is a comparable addiction to food disorders, and treatments for the habit have exact similarities. 

“We need food to live. Food is a necessary resource just like the internet, and in order to manage internet addiction in a non-addictive way, we have to create structure.” Said McGowan.

Internet addiction can develop in many ways. According to an article published by Duke University, it explains the addictions development, listing accessibility, control and excitement as causes.

Many Ann Arbor residents believe these reasons to be accurate when addressing why teens develop internet addiction, such as resident Liz Sullivan, who cited the accessibility of the internet as a particular issue for the development of addiction. 

“It’s available all the time. People are given the technology at such a young age that accessibility becomes an addiction that’s viewed as something else,” Sullivan said. “Give teens a flip phone for emergencies. If they didn’t have a laptop in your pocket at all times, then it would be less necessary to look at it.”

Additionally, Ann Arbor resident Eric Rosenberg, a father of three, stated that he believes internet addiction among teens can become detrimental to their overall development.  

“I feel it is a problem that the internet is replacing a lot of life skills that people receive by interacting with the real world,” Rosenberg said. “During times where we see our kids taking away from life’s pleasures and being stuck on a screen, we remind them that there’s a world out there.” 

Residents such as Olivia Vangoor, echoed Sullivan’s sentiments, stating that  the accessibility of the internet could be the reason for the spiking addiction rates among teenagers. 

“I think we all experience that rush of dopamine using it, it’s very accessible,” Vangoor said. “ I do understand. However, I am not in the mindset of what we have to get rid of it.”

Vangoor continued, explaining how internet addiction could be a call for help. 

“If I notice a friend is staring at their phone all the time, then maybe they’re struggling with things, so we should go do something together or have a deep conversation because that’s way more exciting,” Vangoor said. 

Do I have an internet addiction? 

For those unsure if they’re struggling with Internet addiction, the Duke University article posted a series of statements, recommending that you seek help If you agree with most of them. The statements from the article are listed below:

  • I think about being online almost constantly. If I’m not online, I’m thinking about the next time I can be or that last time that I was.
  • I need to be online longer and longer each time before I feel satisfied.
  • I have tried to control, reduce, or stop my internet use, but haven’t been able to do so successfully. I feel irritable or depressed when I try to reduce the amount of time that I am on the internet or when I can’t get online.
  • The way I use the internet has threatened a relationship with someone I care about, my job, or my school work.
  • I lose track of time when I’m online. I sometimes lie to important people in my life about the amount of time I spend or the types of activities I participate in on the internet. Being online helps me to forget about my problems or improve my mood when I’m feeling sad, anxious, or lonely.

What are the best ways to assist your teenager in curbing their internet addiction?

Speaking with Alexandria Lombardi, a clinical psychology graduate student at Montclair State University. She and McGowan explained key tasks to curb internet addiction. 

The first task is to take occasional breaks by being mindful of time.

By being mindful of the time you’re spending on sites such as Facebook or Twitter, you’ll utilize self-control. If you know you tend to focus a bit too much on specific topics or people, try to distance and limit yourself from that area of the internet for periods at a time. Know that it’s okay to take some time away, and reassure yourself that you’re taking care of yourself by avoiding triggers. 

Try to prioritize hobbies or interests that involve being offline. If you’re not on the internet too often, it’s harder to become reliant on it. 

Make a list (either mentally or physically) of your triggers. Try to notice the warning signs of what’s bothering you before it becomes a full-fledged issue. Internet addiction is preventable as long as you understand the steps you have to take to keep yourself away from the dangers. If you’re already prone to mental stressors and illnesses such as depression or anxiety, be mindful of where you’re spending your time and how long. 

Try to make the right decisions for you and yourself alone. It is not important to follow the flow of others. What works for you will not work for everyone, and you should not allow others to make you feel embarrassed for taking these steps to prioritize your health.

Try and foster interest in other healthy things that actually are more gratifying. For parents, give teenagers one-on-one time or something they’re looking forward to doing. It’s parent interaction and attention they may want. Try doing things more often with your kid and fostering relationships with their peers.

For those struggling with addiction of any form, please contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health hotline at 1-800-662-4357, or visit their website.

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