With its never-ending supply of games, apps, social networking sites, instant messaging and information sources that the virtual world offers, we don’t always hear the clock ticking when we’re online and young people are no exception. Between doing research for school projects, chatting with friends, updating social networking accounts and playing online games, it easy to see how kids and teens might lose track of time.
With all its positives and a few potential pitfalls, the nuances of cyberspace have introduced very pertinent questions – how much is too much and where do we draw the line between normal and excessive Internet usage?
As I Cyber safety counsellor, I’ve been coming across numerous cases wherein Excessive Internet use is negatively impacting young people’s school work, health and social lives. If a child spends too much time on the Internet, compulsive behavior may develop. This could lead to an internet addiction, which just like any other type of addiction, can destroy a healthy balance of interests and activities in your teen’s life.
Children tend to become aggressive and stressed after prolonged usage of electronic devices, and it limits their willingness to do other activities. Unfortunately, most parents don’t usually discover this problem until it’s become serious.
Here are some Signs to watch out for:
Too much screen time
If your child occasionally stays online much longer than intended to originally it may be within the zeitgeist of normal adolescent behavior. However, you need to watch out if he/she sneaks online when you or other adults aren’t watching or lies about the amount of time spent on the Internet or stays up all night to be on the Web and disobeys rules set in relation to Internet time limits.
A person who is hooked on to the Internet, becomes angry and agitated when interrupted while online. In case you see signs of irritability when access to the Web is denied or your child becomes moody or depressed when offline for a couple days, it’s time for you to take action.
Offline v/s Online
A preference towards the virtual world rather than being around real friends and family, a tendency to frequently check notifications the moment it beeps, declining academic results, attention deficit and sleep issues could be linked to a child’s obsession with online activities. When offline, the child remains preoccupied with getting back online and loses all interest in activities previously enjoyed.
Six Simple Solutions:
- Commitment – One may find it tempting to act authoritatively and lay down the law on the number of hours your kids can spend on online. However, in order to effectively address excessive use, there needs to be an active, voluntary commitment on the part of the young person to control their own behaviour. Otherwise, kids will just find ways to work around rules set by their parents. So, it’s important to enroll your child and work hand in hand.
- Journaling – As a parent, you need to speak with your children to make them aware of the problem. You could suggest that they keep a journal. The traditional approach of writing down the number of hours spent on online each day, is passé! Kids could useful apps such as Social Fever, SPACE, StayFocused or any other, for tracking screen time. Besides informing users how much time they’re spending online, these apps also help set usage limits for apps and send alerts when limits are being exceeded.
- Alternatives – If the young person has agreed there’s a problem (and that’s the most important step), you need to work together to put a program in place to help them to break the habit. This could include gradually reducing the number of hours spent on the computer, and increasing the number of hours spent on sports and other activities.
- Examine your own online habits because as a parent, you are the most important role model for your children. Studies suggest that an average adult spends 19 hours a week online compared to 13 hours spent by children.
- Device Free Zone – Keep smart phones and devices out of your kids’ bedrooms, especially during study time and bed time. Research shows that young people who have their own smart phone spend twice as much time online as those who share a connection with other family members.
- Software Controls – Install parental control software that monitors and restricts Internet use. Although these tools are helpful, let’s not forget that they can be easily disabled by your young netizen. As a parents, your ultimate goal should be helping your kids inculcate self-control, discipline and accountability with the Internet.
However, if your child’s behaviour cannot be controlled and is seriously impacting other aspects of their life, consider seeking professional counselling. ‘Compulsive Internet Usage’ may be a symptom of other (more complex) issues such as depression, anger and low self-esteem.