It's no big secret that families are more plugged in than ever before. Between television, tablets, laptops and gaming systems, both parents and kids are dialed into technology. Sometimes a little too much. Although the research on Internet addiction is only just beginning, and criteria for a diagnosis has yet to be established, treatment facilities have been established in the U.S., Australia, and Asia.
While many people might feel like stories of Internet addiction are extreme, we can't discount the fact that kids are growing up in a world full of technology with the Internet lurking around every corner. We have to stay ahead of the curve if we want our children to avoid this trap, even if that means confronting some difficult truths.
A new Greek study draws some interesting connections between parenting style and Internet addiction. The study shows that recollections of strict, unaffectionate parents were more common among young adults with an unhealthy attachment to Internet use. According to the research conducted at the Technological Education Institute (TEI) of Crete, young adults who remember their parents as being tough or demanding and lacking affection tend to be sad or have trouble making friends, and those traits increase the risk of Internet addiction.
Parenting extremes can go both ways, and overly permissive parenting can yield similar results. Parents who check out and use the Internet as a means of entertainment for children early on also put their children at risk for Internet addiction later in life. The key to success, it seems, is striking a balance.
It's important to know how to spot symptoms of Internet addiction. Although there is no clear diagnostic criteria at this time, certain behaviors should be noted:
- Excessive time spent online
- Increasing need to spend more time online
- Irritability when offline
- Nervousness or restlessness when offline
- Impairments in social relationships and school work
Should you notice these behaviors in your Internet-obsessed child, it's best to contact a licensed mental health professional for an evaluation.
And as for striking that balance when it comes to parenting? Get involved and stay involved.
With the non-stop chatter about "helicopter" parenting and "overindulging", some parents shy away from staying involved in their child's day-to-day struggles. That's a mistake. There is a significant difference between trying to control everything your child does and walking by your child's side.
Your child needs you. Life is hard, even when you're young, and unconditional love and support are still the best parenting strategies around. Get involved in your child's life. Know their likes and dislikes, even when they change every five days. Know their friends and what they're talking about at recess. Listen when your child speaks. You can't fix everything for your child, nor should you attempt to, but you can listen and you can be there.
Kids of all ages need nurturing. They need empathy, kindness and love.
If you want to be the person your child turns to when the going gets tough (instead of faceless "friends" on the Internet), you have to nurture them along the way. Hug them, cheer for them, praise their efforts and hold them when they fall. Show them that real life connections are powerful and healing, and that they don't need to hide behind a screen to find support.
All kids need limits and consistency is the key to enforcing limits. When children know what to expect, they are more likely to adhere to limits and boundaries set by parents.
Talk about behavioral expectations and revisit them as your children grow. Set appropriate boundaries and be certain that your children understand them. Follow through on your limits.
Model Internet usage
Chances are you've heard it before, but it's always worth repeating: Your children take their cues from you.
If you spend your days glued to your phone, jumping whenever it chimes, your children will internalize the message that technology trumps human contact. Send a healthier message.
Schedule your Internet time when your children are at school. Let the phone go to voicemail when you're engaged with your child. Better yet, silence it. Stop texting at red lights and start initiating interesting conversations in the car instead.
Internet addiction is complicated and difficult to treat. Be honest with your kids when it comes to setting limits on technology, and take a positive and nurturing approach to parenting. Your kids will thank you for it.