How do you know if your teenager is suffering from excessive use of the internet? Don't all teenagers spend most of their time on their mobile phones and tablets? Isn't it normal? Or is it progressing from excessive use to a severe case of pathological internet use? It seems that internet addiction disorder is growing as fast as the teenagers themselves.
A global problem
The problem is a global one, but the estimates of internet addiction in teenagers varies considerably by country. The UK has one of the highest rates at 18%, China 6% and in Mediterranean countries the rate is quite low at 3.9% for Italy and only 1% in Spain. Studies on the estimated rate in the United States are conflicting and range from as little as 1% to as much as 26%. The problem is more common in boys than girls with some studies reporting as much as a 3:1 ratio. There is also some controversy over whether the problem is in fact an addiction. In 2013 the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder was released and did not include excessive internet use as an addiction but the term Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) is well established and is the most commonly used term. The disorder is worrying for parents on many levels as it has been linked to increased risk of depression and anxiety as well interpersonal problems and loss of self esteem. The problem can also lead to dysfunction of the family unit.
What are the signs of Internet addiction?
If you are worried that your teenager might have an internet addiction, here are some of the things they do that should raise the alarm :
⇒ Always stays online for long periods of time and does not do the chores. Most teenagers (even those that are reading books or going out to play sport) don't want to do the chores, they complain then eventually do them whilst mumbling to themselves. So we're talking extreme refusal here.
⇒ Doesn't go out and hang out with friends, would rather be on the internet
⇒ Any new 'relationships' are with online 'friends'
⇒ School work is really suffering
⇒ Gets defensive when asked what they are doing online (again, many teenagers get defensive if you interrupt them when they are doing something, but we are talking extreme)
⇒ Gets angry if the connection is down and will immediately go out to a friend's house or an internet cafe to get online
⇒ Depressed and moody if you make them go somewhere where there is no internet connection (holidays, family visits)
⇒ Secretly staying up late or getting up early to go online
Official Diagnosis of internet addiction
A paper published in 2010 proposed that the diagnosis of internet addiction should include two main criteria - symptoms should have lasted for at least three months and include 6 hours of 'not necessary' internet use per day.
Study shows Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can reduce internet use.
Studies have shown that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can be beneficial to reduce aggressive behaviour and help with depression and eating disorders in young people. Researchers are now looking at CBT as a treatment for internet addiction. A new pilot study carried out in Germany investigated the effects of cognitive behavioural group therapy on pathological internet use in a group of adolescents. The teenagers' behaviour was analysed at the start of the study and then after 15 months. Results showed that after treatment the adolescents had a much less severe problem with internet use and had dramatically reduced usage during the week and at weekends. The psychological well being of the teenagers however remained unchanged. The group concludes that the same group CBT should be used to treat pathological internet use and that inclusion of more psychoeducative aspects may also improve teenagers' psychological well being.
Read more on smartphone/ internet addiction, or CBT: