It’s no secret that many of us spend more time on our electronic devices than we may like to admit. Frequently scrolling through our phones every day has now become the norm, this is seen across all ages, but particularly within teenagers.
Whilst an internet addiction could cover various activities available on the internet, verywellmind.com states that an “internet addiction is a behavioural addiction in which a person becomes dependent on the use of the internet, or other online devices, as a maladaptive way of coping with life’s stresses”. It’s incredible what can be done online, almost every activity traditionally thought of as habit-forming can be engaged with over the internet.
Are there different types of internet addiction?
As the internet can be used in so many different ways, there are of course, different types of internet addiction in teens. As far back as 1995, an American psychiatrist named Dr Kimberly Young founded the Centre for Internet Addiction Recovery after she become aware of the extent that the internet was already dominating people’s lives, damaging relationships, and impacting mental health.
This was controversial as many believed that, unlike chemical dependency, the internet offers several direct benefits as technological advancement in our society and not a device to be criticised as addictive (Internet Addiction: Symptoms, Evaluation and Treatment by Dr Kimberly S. Young 1999).
In Individual Different and the Development of Internet Addiction (p.222) by Mirna Macur there are five sub-types of internet addiction described, these were:
- Cybersex addiction (the compulsive use of internet pornography and/or engagement in cybersex)
- Cyber relationship addiction (the obsessive pursuit of and participation in online relationships)
- Net compulsions (compulsive online gambling, shopping, trading, etc)
- Information overload (compulsive and/or obsessive surfing the web or database searches)
- Computer game addiction (playing video games – distinct from gambling – over the internet)
Since the publication of this study, social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have had an enormous impact of people’s behaviour, both online and offline. The BMJ states that “77% of internet users in the UK have a social media profile, and one recent study estimates that 20% of adolescents may use social media for at least five hours every day”.
With such a high level of exposure, when social media is used excessively, it can be linked to symptoms that are usually associated with behavioural addictions or substance abuse disorders such as depression and social anxiety.
How can we identify internet addiction disorder in young people?
If you’re responsible for a teenager, you should have a good understanding of how much time they’re spending online. Whether you suspect a gaming addiction, social media addiction, or a general internet addiction, there are some signs to look out for to help you determine what you can do to support them.
If they’re spending an excessive number of hours each day on the internet, checking their favourite sites first thing in the morning, all throughout the day, and again before bed on a persistent basis, this is a sure sign that you need to encourage the teen to reduce their internet usage.
If they become defensive, irritable, or even depressed when you suggest reduced internet usage, this again shows that they’ll find it very difficult to be without their electronic device, indicating an internet addiction and potential behavioural problems.
Is your teen addicted to internet games? Do they spend hours upon hours on their gaming console where you have to force them to take a reluctant break? Then the only thing they can talk about is the game or themes relating to the game, showing they’re desperate to get back to it.
Maybe they’ve lost interest in activities they once enjoyed such as sports or being out with friends, as being online takes preference. If this sounds familiar, then it’s important that you try to reduce gaming hours. You could create a schedule by limiting the days or hours spent gaming to help them gradually recover from their gaming addiction.
It’s possible that you could notice a change in eating or sleeping patterns, in addition to a disregard of personal hygiene. When we look at these factors combined with overuse of the internet, it’s clear that you need to act and support the teen out of this rut before it gets any worse.
Their performance at school is also likely to take a hit as they’re disengaged and mentally drained from being online all day.
There are so many negative effects which come with an internet addiction in teens. We urge you, please don’t brush any of these behaviours off as just teenagers being teenagers. Really look at what’s happening each day and how the behaviour of your teen is changing.
Teens and internet addiction can cause significant mental health issues, physical health issues, and damages their social skills, particularly impacting self-confidence, and their communication skills as they’re highly likely to become very introvert.
When we look at internet addiction and relationships, a teenager with an internet addiction will likely struggle to make solid social connections offline causing them to be quite anxious in social situations which aren’t on the internet.
Many teens addicted to internet games or addiction to generally being online might not even be aware that they’re addicted. If they are aware of a potential addiction, they’re unlikely to admit it anyone, maybe not even to themselves as they could be attempting to conceal their condition.
What can you do to help?
If you’re concerned that a teenager is suffering from an internet addiction, it’s crucial that you seek professional support before they develop serious psychological issues. At Rehab Clinics Group, we can offer personalised treatment programmes to suit each person’s needs with the aim to gradually reduce internet usage and alleviate or prevent further problems.
There’s a wide variety of therapies available which are highly effective in supporting recovery from an internet addiction in teens. Seek out support now before it gets any worse. Call us on 0800 470 0382 or text HELP to 83222.