The term “Internet addiction” is often used today in connection with excessive use of the Internet or individual applications. People who have experienced this say that various online applications control their thoughts and determine their behaviour in everyday life. Daily responsibilities (school or work) and social contacts (friends and family) are relegated to the background. A person is only interested in the ability to be online always.
Is Internet addiction a disease?
In addition to the term “Internet addiction”, terms such as “online addiction”, “computer addiction” or “pathological Internet use” have also come to be used. However, they mostly describe the same phenomenon.
Despite the increasing use of the term “addiction”, so-called Internet addiction is not a recognized addictive disorder. Not yet. The negative consequences that people with Internet addiction face in their daily life are undeniable, as is the need for treatment for such people.
Therefore, researchers compare this dependence with other behavioural addictions (for example, “gambling addiction”). Their symptoms are very similar.
What are the forms of Internet addiction?
The main distinction is made between two forms of Internet addiction: general and specific.
By general, the victims use different Internet offers (chats, news, games) simultaneously and with the same frequency. They spend hours doing this.
The specific form of Internet use is clearly in the foreground. The most common forms observed are overuse of:
- Online games (for example, the multiplayer game “World of tanks”)
- Internet gambling (such as online poker or similar casino games)
- Internet pornography
- Online stores or
- Online communication platforms (for example, social networks and messengers such as Facebook, WhatsApp or Instagram).
Internet addiction: signs
Time spent online is not in itself a decisive criterion for addiction. Rather, important are the negative consequences in daily life and the degree of suffering a child experiences from using the Internet.
For example, a school guy spends a lot of time in an online role-playing game. However, he does not experience any negative consequences. He can continue to control his behaviour and carry out his daily duties.
It is worse when the game helps suppress problems or avoid a bad mood. Parents’ attempts to limit a child’s time on the Internet usually fail.
The following behavioural disorders are often associated with problematic or addictive Internet use:
- Cyclical thoughts about past or future Internet activities. The use of the Internet is becoming the predominant activity.
- Feelings such as irritability, sadness, or fear are more likely to arise when you cannot be online.
- To feel good, you need to spend more and more time on the Internet.
- Attempts to control its use and adhere to the rules regarding the time of use are unsuccessful.
- Playing online games, chatting and/or presenting yourself on social media is preferable to previous hobbies and entertainment.
- The computer, tablet or smartphone continues to be used despite the problems already encountered.
- Time spent online is hidden or underestimated.
- Internet is used to avoid negative moods or feelings.
- As a result of these actions, school performance or communication with friends, classmates and relatives suffers.
If parents observe several of the listed behaviours in a child at once, this may indicate a problem. However, a reliable diagnosis can only be made by experienced therapists, and then they will also decide which therapy may be needed.
Who is most susceptible to Internet addiction?
There is no simple answer to this question. Studies show that children and adolescents with specific characteristics are more likely to suffer from Internet addiction. Naturally, not everyone is subject to it. There is no direct causality.
The symptoms of Internet addiction are more common in those who are depressed, insecure, or anxious. Shy people and those who feel lonely in society are also increasingly preoccupied with content from the Internet. The same applies to young people with low self-esteem or lack of social support in their environment.
People who feel less socially integrated are more likely to become Internet addicts. After all, here they can satisfy their social or individual needs. Internet applications make it easier for them to communicate, quickly and easily distract from everyday life difficulties.
Being on the Internet serves such people to escape from everyday duties, from unpleasant situations and experiences. The existing conflicts seem less dangerous to them.
Conversely, children and adolescents who have no problem communicating with others, who are highly controlled and conscientious and less stressed, are less at risk of Internet addiction.
What can parents do as a preventive measure?
Accept and allow
The Internet offers many benefits and opportunities for children and adolescents in their daily life if they use it correctly. Therefore, parents should agree that the media has changed over time and does not have to be demonized.
Learn to understand the media
An active exploration of the uses and benefits of “new” media is important for both children and their parents. At the same time, it is necessary to touch upon rather unpleasant topics, such as Internet addiction and possible preventive measures.
Parents will have to deal with various mass media because they need to understand: what are children doing on the Internet? What content do they encounter? What function does being online play in their children’s daily lives?
Teach children to ask questions and regulate their online behaviour
In addition to imparting technical knowledge about the Internet and its control, children should know how they can reflect and regulate their behaviour. In practice, this includes the following skills:
- correct communication with others through chats, messengers and social networks,
- distrust of unknown content,
- carefully considering what personal information the child can disclose,
critical attitude to the use of the Internet and, if necessary, its limitations.
This approach shows that social and communication skills protect against uncontrolled Internet use.
It is important to understand that the rules that naturally apply to usual offline communication are also valid for online communication.
At the same time, the Internet cannot be used to get away from problems. Parents should offer children alternative behaviours that help them overcome difficulties (for example, relationships with others).
Develop “self-regulation”: analysis and regulation of own media consumption
The importance of online media should not only concern the younger generation. Adults should also consider whether they can be role models and how important is media for them.
Self-regulation is a skill that children are taught at an early age in various situations, whether it is a question about the number of sweets allowed or about sharing toys with other children. Such cases teach children not to abuse excessive consumption, but rather to limit themselves to certain things.
The same approach should be followed when consuming media. Parents should not use the Internet as a reward or punishment tool. Rather, they should reflect on their own media consumption and set an example.
Ask yourself the following questions:
Will I be able to do without a cell phone during lunch? How important is WhatsApp, Facebook, individual websites and/or Instagram to me? Can I control my Internet Use?
You may not have been able to answer yes to questions 1 and 3 entirely. If so, it is important to look at and reflect on your media use. Then think about how you can set rules together so that the Internet, computers and smartphones do not dominate your daily life, but enrich it!
Don’t let your child become addicted to the Internet! Register and connect the parental control program!