Middle and high school have never been easy, but there are new challenges facing today’s teenagers that the last generation didn’t have to consider. Unfortunately, the following story is not all that uncommon:
“‘It was always about refreshing my feed and I’d stay up until like 4:30 in the morning,’ she recalled. ‘It was my heart. I couldn’t put it down … It felt like a part of me.'”
It was her heart. That would be nice if she were talking about a family member or a pet, but she’s not. She’s talking about her smartphone and social media, and the obsession with them that led her to over a year and a half in a treatment center.
She was 12 years old. Read the story here.
The Problem with Digital Addiction
Social media and other internet-based pursuits can turn into more than just a pastime. Not only are tweens and teens who spend all their time online neglecting family, studies, and other real world activities, they’re constantly putting themselves at risk:
- Pornography: Porn can be accessed both intentionally and accidentally.
- Bullying: Cyberbullying is everywhere your child’s phone, tablet, or laptop is. And if your teen is addicted to that smartphone, he’ll find it hard to escape such bullying. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry says that surveys have shown up to 50 percent of students are bullied before they graduate from high school. In some cases, cyberbullying can have especially tragic consequences.
- Humiliation: Teens might be pressured to send nude or suggestive photos of themselves to friends, romantic partners, or even complete strangers. These photos can be used to blackmail or embarrass your teen.
- Online Predators: Since anyone can pretend to be anyone else on the Internet, it’s especially easy for predators to befriend your child.
- Brain Damage: Digital addiction can actually damage your brain, just like alcohol or drugs.
Warning Signs of Digital Addiction
It can be tricky to identify true digital addiction since teens (and their parents) spend a lot of time online, and some of that is necessary for school and work. First, consider whether or not she exhibits potential digital addiction risk factors, such as other addictive behavior like smoking or drinking, loneliness or difficulty in relationships, or a large amount of free time. Then, carefully monitor your teen for warning signs like these:
- Staying up late to be online.
- Constantly checking the phone or tablet, even in the middle of conversations or other activities.
- Opting for screen time over time with friends or family.
- Neglecting school or other activities.
- Getting angry, irritable, or argumentative when confronted about his internet use.
- Lying about her internet use.
- Refusing to cut back on screen time, even when rules are set; finding ways to evade those rules.
How to Help Your Teen
You can’t keep your child away from the internet entirely, but you can help prevent digital addiction before it starts.
First, set trustworthy parental controls on your teen’s mobile devices. This way, you can block certain apps, games, and sites (or even entire categories of sites) that might fuel an addiction. You can also block certain time frames to limit the amount of time he can spend online (and to ensure your teen is in bed rather than chatting or posting at 3:00 in the morning).
Next, if you suspect your teenager is addicted to her device, seek help. If they continue down the path of digital addiction, they risk their health, their relationships, and even their futures. Though it can be challenging for both you and your child or teen to admit there’s a serious problem, working through that and getting the appropriate help can get them back on track for a happy, healthy life.