There are both positive and negative impacts associated with children’s use of the internet. Using online tools can boost a child’s creativity, encourage them to become an excellent learner, and improve their research skills. Although there are many benefits to using the internet, there are also many drawbacks. Among the biggest gripes against using the internet is child internet addiction.
In today’s society, Internet addiction is being paid attention to by mental health practitioners, academics, parents, and researchers. An addiction to the Internet can be just as damaging as an addiction to drugs. The question is, is the behavior you notice from your kids really an addiction?
Screen time and kids’ refusal to cut back on screentime are the two most common concerns among parents. One could say it’s getting harder and harder to convince them to put down their devices and consume meals, engage in other activities, do their homework or go outside.
Additionally, kids often describe their behavior as “addiction.” A survey in 2016 by Common Sense Media found that nearly all teenagers said they ‘feel’ addicted to their mobile phones. Seventy-five percent of respondents indicated that they felt responsible for responding to text messages, social media updates, and other notifications immediately.
Signs of Internet Addiction
Taking a close look at the signs and symptoms of internet addiction becomes vital for parents as primary caregivers. Below are some signs to look for in children before it gets out of control.
- When children spend unreasonable amounts of time on the internet instead of participating in outdoor sports or other curricular activities.
- Taking the child off the internet causes him or her to become irritable or aggressive, which exemplifies their dependence on it.
- Parents should take note if their child seems happy when he or she accesses social media, whereas when he/she is offline, he/she appears aloof and sad.
- An additional sign of internet addiction is spending less time with parents, siblings, and peers.
- Parents should also take into consideration if the disconnect from the internet makes their child restless and impulsive.
Tips for Protection from Internet Addiction
- Spend Some Time Online
Most of today’s parents did not grow up immersed in technology as much as their children did. Youth and technology are a match-up game that you’re going to have to play all the time, so you’d best get started.
Start an Instagram account, set up a Facebook profile and watch some YouTube videos and online games if you do not already have them.
You may think this is pointless or even intimidating depending on your relationship to computers. As you become more familiar with the online world, you’ll be better equipped to instruct your children about what they should (and shouldn’t) do online.
- Address the Problem
When there are two parents, it is imperative that both parents represent a united front. Every parent must decide on goals and be serious about the issue. When you approach your child, be as clear as possible about desired goals, and if necessary, compromise. In the event that you fail to do so, your child will appeal to the more skeptical parent, causing you to split.
It’s important for the parent of a single-parent household to reflect on how best to express themselves and prepare for the likely emotional reaction from the child. When computer or screen time is curtailed, a child addicted to the internet or on the verge of becoming addicted will feel threatened. An emotionally outburst laden with accusatory phrases is likely to be directed toward a single parent. Don’t get sucked into the emotion, or worse: start lecturing on disrespect while the emotion is still raw. Keep your focus on your child’s Internet usage while acknowledging his or her feelings.
- Don’t be a hypocrite
Children enjoy pointing out mistakes we’ve made, and they are right to call us out when we engage in inappropriate technology use. You can’t stop your children from playing Fortnite while you’re glued to your Facebook feed. In an age when children are increasingly reliant on screens for entertainment, parents can guide their children on good behavior by becoming “indistractable.” Tell your children how you manage screen time in your own life, and be open about how you faced similar challenges. Talking to your kids about the potential risks of excessive-tech use will make them more open to your guidance. Making your decisions with them instead of for them will also make them more willing to follow your advice.
- Talk to your child about their online activity
You should start talking to your child as soon as they begin to access the internet and keep the conversation going as they get older about what they read, watch and what they are communicating about online. List the sites and apps your child visits and uses, and discuss them together. You will need to discuss what is appropriate with your child and perhaps remind them that this may be different for other parents and children.
Consider what is best for your family and listen to your child. There will be a time when they will be able to access the internet away from home. Get them prepared now so they will be ready when the time comes.
It is important to teach them about their online reputation, too, and how they must take care when interacting with others and representing themselves on public platforms. Always emphasize the fact that the internet is not a private place.
- Closely monitor access to games, videos, and other media
Parents should be aware of all the violent and otherwise inappropriate content out there and ensure their kids are playing and watching appropriate video games and shows. Common Sense Media offers a range of ratings and reviews so parents can decide what media is appropriate for their children, and many devices’ parental controls provide parents with the ability to block inappropriate content for their children.
- Be understanding
Take a moment and imagine yourself as your child. They live in a vastly different world now from when you were a kid and played in parks or chased spiders. Know that kids want to feel included in their peer group and may feel pressured to keep up with their social profiles online. Be firm in enforcing the rules and negotiating the appropriate timeframes for being online.
- Establish tech-free zones and times
In addition, a popular method of managing internet usage among parents is to designate times and places during which the internet is off-limits for kids, as well as for parents who are willing to practice what they preach. A no-technology time during mealtime could be established to foster family connection and foster conversation, or certain areas of the house could be designated a technology-free zone.
- Set reasonable rules and boundaries
Many parents who see their child’s internet addiction will punish him by taking their devices away. Other parents fear their child will become addicted and force their child to quit technology since they think that’s the only way to finish the process. Using either approach will foster trouble – your child will internalize a sense that they are bad; they will regard you as an enemy instead of an ally; and they will suffer withdrawal symptoms of anger, frustration, or anxiousness. Establish clear internet usage boundaries with your child instead. Consider some extra hours at the weekends and perhaps one hour after homework. Be firm with your rules and remember you aren’t trying to change your child. You are helping them break their psychological dependency.
- Listen to your children
The information must be exchanged both ways in order for communication to be effective. As a parent, you need to create an environment in which your children feel comfortable sharing with you. Only then will you be able to monitor what they do, enjoy, worry about, or otherwise contemplate.
Communication doesn’t necessarily mean having a formal conversation to control excessive online activity or steer your children in a better direction when it comes to browsing. It means starting a conversation ahead of time and listening intently.
- Know your limits
In terms of both children’s physical and mental health, parents are totally justified in setting limits on their children’s Internet use. Keep your children from staring at screens all day long, and participate in regular off-line activities with them. Parents should make sure that their children’s devices have an automatic shut off for push notifications during the night, so they can prevent distractions from occurring. They should also be aware of the number of apps that have active push notifications on their children’s devices. Observe signs such as a sudden change in your child’s sleep-wake pattern, headaches, or excessive spending of time online.
- Show you care
In your discussion, it is important to remind your child that you love him or her and that you care about their happiness and well-being. Questions about someone’s behavior are often interpreted negatively or as criticism by children and teens. It is important that you convey your non-condemnation to your child. You shouldn’t hide your concern for your child’s behavior from them; instead, you should point out the changes you’ve noticed: tiredness, declining grades, giving up hobbies, withdrawal from friends, etc. Ask your child to keep a daily internet time log – that way, you can see how much time they spend online and the activities they undertake when they are online.
Remind them that, while you can monitor their television habits more easily, you need their cooperation and assistance if you intend to become appropriately involved in their online interests. Build trust by giving them the freedom to keep the log by themselves for a week or two. Your problem is likely their denial of addiction if they baulk at this suggestion, or if they clearly lie in their log.
- Impose time limitations
Parents should impose strict limits on when and how often their kids can be online in order to prevent their kids from spending too much time in front of screens or staying up late playing video games or otherwise engrossed in their digital world. Often, devices come equipped with parental control options that allow parents to set the daily time when their children can access the internet, or are able to restrict the number of internet hours a day a child can use.
- Be alert to dangers
With laptops and smartphones, it may be harder to enforce the traditional advice of putting computers in the living room. Make the living room the most desirable area to surf by keeping Wi-Fi signals strong there. Be transparent about checking your browsing history frequently. (But parents also have a responsibility to stay savvy nowadays since kids are so internet savvy).
- Create a contract
All of the rules governing internet access should be discussed and reached a loose agreement between parents and kids. This should be done in writing so that there won’t be a dispute later on about what the exact rules are. Parental tip: If you allow your kids to play some role in setting the rules (however small), they might be more willing to follow them.
- Smart digital parenting
Keeping an eye on your child’s devices is always a good idea. You can check the history of their web browser to find out which site they’re visiting. You can also install parental control programs like Fenced.AI to monitor their usage remotely. It not only allows you to monitor the internet usage of your children but also shows you which websites/apps they use, and when.
A child’s addiction to the internet can be just like any other addiction; it allows them to escape from the real world. When people suppress difficult situations and painful feelings, it will only result in bigger problems in the future.
Take some time to speak to your kids about the reasons for a child’s excessive screen time. For children whose problems are too severe for you to handle alone, you should seek help immediately.