Is Your Child Addicted to the Internet? How to Tell and What Parents Can Do

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“Addiction to the Internet shares some of the negative aspects of substance addiction and has been shown to lead to consequences such as failing school, family, and relationship problems.” Click here to read the full study.

We live in a much more connected world today than we did even five years ago. Today’s smartphones are more powerful than computers were a decade ago. We’re constantly connected with each other, tweeting, updating statuses and uploading photos, and we see the addiction to this social media everywhere.

For children, however, they quickly get sucked into the idea that their online friends need to know what they’re doing or thinking at all times, and that this information is actually important. As we’ve shared at Yoursphere for Parents, social media is a participatory media where a site’s members create the content and/or push traffic to the site versus just consuming the content that’s put before them. Today’s popular social media sites aren’t only participatory, though, they actually put a heavy emphasis on features that promote instant gratification: Likes, thumbs up, +1’s, retweets and comments are all examples of this. Engaging in this behavior almost becomes automatic for children and teens as they whip out their smartphones every few minutes just to see if anyone has liked or commented on whatever they posted.

Studies have shown that social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter can be more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol. A team from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business recently conducted a survey of 250 people which found that “the urges to keep on top of social networks and work were the hardest to resist” and “In contrast alcohol and tobacco prompted much lower levels of desire despite their reputation for being addictive.”

Wilhelm Hofmann, the leader of the team, suggests people may fail to resist social media so much because there is no obvious or immediate downside to checking services like Twitter or Facebook. He does warn that these services can ultimately be a huge drain on users’ time, however.

From my point of view, as a mother and president of a company that publishes a kids-only social network, the big downside to today’s popular social networking sites is that they encourage children to engage in repetitive, unoriginal activity in exchange for rewards such as Likes and comments. The activity doesn’t stimulate them; it instead feeds into an attention-seeking state of mind.

To combat this, on Yoursphere we challenge kids with dynamic activities that push them to interact with other users. They read exclusive excerpts from upcoming books and give us feedback in the form of blog posts. They can talk to other users about their shared hobbies and interests and the site can introduce them to other similar interests through “spheres”, social communities that they can create based on specific interests. Lastly, they can also compete for prizes through our hosted contests. The contests are always fairly challenging and tend to be puzzles that require problem solving and communication skills.

To help minimize the chances of Internet addiction affecting your children, we at Yoursphere for Parents recommend:

  1. Keeping laptops/computers in the family room and away from the bedroom, especially at night. Not only will this set the boundaries for when and where it’s OK to use the computer, it allows you to monitor and regulate the amount of time your child spends online.
  2. Making time for outdoor activities. Establishing a healthy balance of online time with outdoor time is a great way to minimize Internet addiction. Being outdoors with family and friends reminds children that there’s more to life than status updates and tweets.
  3. Computer monitoring is a parental responsibility. Some people call it helicopter parenting, others call it spying, but the bottom line is parental monitoring software helps ensure that your child is having a safe and positive experience online.

Click here to see a list of parental monitoring software solutions (PC and mobile) that we recommend.

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  • I’m really happy that I found this page! I’m a single mother of two lovely kids and I wanna protect them from the dark side of the internet. I installed PCWebControl software and block some kind of social media pages in her computer. In my opinin it’s the best way to help our kids. I wanna do something more but I need some help, I hope this website will help me! 🙂 Thanks again!

  • If your child has an addiction, rules need to be strict. The addictive pull is so hard, that kids have learned to use great ingenuity to circumvent filters. On a technical perspective, here are my suggestions:

    Common bypass #1-Linux. Linux is a free open source operating system. Most internet filters only work on Windows and Mac. Linux is also very easy to download Linux and burn onto a CD. It has a special feature that allows it to run directly from a CD without installing it, making it untraceable. It has a simple fix. Talk to a computer expert about disabling the boot function from external media and password protecting the BIOS program. If you are not familiar with Linux and your child is, it should be banned from the home.

    Common bypass #2-proxy servers. Without getting too technical, proxy servers serve as a go between point between your network and the ISP. Tech savvy teens have been known to adjust browser, network, and/or router settings to connect to remote computers that do not contain filters. Filters have often ignored them because they are websites with innocent names. Most filters nowadays are sophisticated enough to block these sites. The solution…Netnanny has a database of blacklisted sites and also has a feature which blocks content while he/she is in the proxy server. A proxy server can also be set-up from a home computer and accessed from a remote location. You can block this by taking away administrator settings and password protecting your router.

    There’s no silver bullet, but if administered properly, these methods can go a long way.

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