About a year ago I remember telling some friends that the only thing my then 6-year-old son wanted to do was play games on his i-pad. I told them that on occasions when he played on it for too long and I made him turn it off, he threw tantrums and at times even turned violent. (And yes I hear some of you yelling at your screen to me: “easy solution – don’t give him the i-pad!”).
My friends told me I was over-reacting, but I knew it was true. If you’re a parent the one thing you can rely upon most is your gut. I didn’t need a psychologist to tell me there was a problem in allowing too much internet use. At that point I believe my son had what’s now more commonly known as “internet addiction disorder”.
What Is Internet Addiction Disorder? Is It Real?
There was a special shown on TV last night about children being addicted to internet games. Psychologist Dr Kimberley Young explained that there is now a “condition” known as internet addiction disorder. Similar to other addictions like gambling and alcohol, too much time on the internet chemically affects areas of our brain, leading to abnormal behavior.
How Much Is Too Much Internet Use?
It’s not so much about exactly how much time is spent online. There’s no clear-cut line that says it’s OK to spend 5 hours a day online, but any more means you must be addicted to internet use. Although in saying that, clearly it’s a problem if you’re spending most of your waking hours on technology.
It’s more about the impact that being on the internet is having on your life. If you’re not functioning otherwise, and thinking only about getting back online when you stop temporarily for meals and toilet breaks, it’s pretty safe to assume you are suffering from internet addiction disorder.
Does My Child Have Internet Addiction Disorder?
Going back to your children, there are questions to consider to determine if they have a problem in this area:
- Do they obey the time limits you’ve applied for their internet usage?
- Are they avoiding (or attempting to avoid) other activities to play games online? Ie spending time with the family, eating, sleeping?
- Is their schoolwork being affected?
- Is your child withdrawing from their friends and family?
- Are they sneaking into their room to be alone and online?
- Is your child often tired, angry, or moody?
It’s not really rocket science. As a parent you’ll probably know if your child’s internet usage is having a negative affect on their behavior.
How Do I Restrict Internet Use Without Causing World War III?
Looking at any online forum on this topic, there are many people who are very critical of parents that allow their children to spend too much time online. Some of these people are parents themselves, and their general comments sound something like this:
‘This is a simple problem that people are making complex…take the screens away. You’re the parent, don’t be afraid to be the parent. Sure its not going to be pleasant but short term pain for long term gain…everyone wants to be their kids friend these days & they are too frightened to step back & actually parent them”
Actually this is one of the nicer comments, most are much more harsh!
The response of course is that sometimes it’s not so simple. The idea of taking away all internet usage during the week simply doesn’t work when your children are old enough to need to use a computer to do their homework. It’s simply not possible to watch over your children 24/7 no matter how good you are, or how much you care.
I don’t believe you’re a “bad parent” just because you need to take the time to cook dinner, do the washing, and do other chores around the house that prevent you from watching over your child. Seriously, there are times where we can’t be on top of our children, and we shouldn’t have to be! And in any case, your children will be online during school time when you’re not there, whether you like it or not. This includes pre-schools and kids aged 3-4 years old!
So What’s The Solution?
Like all offline challenges in life, it all starts with effective communication. It’s vital that you sit down with your children and communicate with them clearly. The dictator parenting method of just controlling your children by hiding their devices or telling them what they can and can’t do might work short term, but ultimately most children will rebel at some point.
The only effective way is to agree on a technology plan that works for everyone in your family. Of course you are the parent and ultimately it’s up to you to ensure your child isn’t addicted to a life that isn’t real online. But if you can agree together on technology limits and give your child the responsibility to uphold the rules that you set together, you’ll be far more successful in the long run.
Make sure you give your child enough credit to help them understand for themselves why the rules are there. Your children have their own brain, and if you explain the pitfalls of internet addiction disorder they will not only understand, but even embrace the new rules.
Some basic rules to agree on might include:
- No technology in bedrooms
- No technology within half an hour of bedtime (essential for sleep)
- Designated technology-free time together as a family
- No background TV
- Maximum 2 hours technology use per day (excluding school work)
- No internet until chores and homework is done
- Technology use time must equal physical exercise time, ie for every hour of physical activity they can have an hour of internet use
Set The Right Example
It wouldn’t be right to finish this article without mentioning this. We all know that our children mimic our own behavior. The “do as I say, not as I do” theory never works and certainly won’t gain you any respect from your children.
Take note of your own internet usage. If you are addicted to internet usage yourself, or constantly checking your phone throughout the day and night for text messages, it’s going to be difficult for you to enforce the behavior you desire for your children.
Yes it’s true, you are the parent and it doesn’t mean your internet usage has to stop. But if you are obsessive about your own internet use then don’t expect your children to be any different. There comes a point where you need to draw the line for the sake of yourself and your children for the benefit of your family.
Is My Child Still Addicted To Internet Games?
I opened this article by explaining my situation a year or so ago with my son who was 6 years old. So I feel I need to finish this off by confirming that no, my son is no longer addicted to internet games. He is allowed to play on his games in moderation at certain times of the day, and I moderate which games he can play on. He is perfectly well adjusted and is a healthy and happy child. He gets a lot of positives out of his online games, they are generally educational and harmless. Just goes to prove there’s no need to wipe out technology use completely, it just comes down to effective communication with your children.