The internet is fast becoming trusted by both children and adults as reliable and accurate sources of information. Through the internet children now have access to an almost endless supply of information and opportunity for interaction. However, there can be real risks and dangers for an unsupervised child.
Most online services give children resources such as encyclopedias, current events coverage, and access to libraries and other valuable material. They can also play games and communicate with friends on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. The ability to “click” from one area to another appeals to a child’s natural impulsivity and curiosity and needs for immediate gratification or feedback.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS THAT THE CHILD MAY HAVE INTERNET ADDICTION?
If the child has a few of the following issues, it may help for the child or adolescent to be evaluated by a mental health professional –
- Loses track of time while online
- Sacrifices needed hours of sleep to spend time online
- Becomes agitated or angry when online time is interrupted
- Checks email or online messages several times a day
- Becomes irritable if not allowed access to the internet
- Spends time online in place of homework or chores
- Prefers to spend time online rather than with friends or family
- Disobeys time limits that have been set for internet usage
- Lies about amount of time spent online or “sneaks” online when no one is around
- Forms new relationships with people he or she has met online
- Seems preoccupied with getting back online when away from the computer
- Loses interest in activities that were enjoyable before he or she had online access
- Becomes irritable, moody or depressed when not online
What are the possible reasons for internet addiction?
Young people may use internet as a way to escape painful feelings or troubling situations instead of processing and sealing with the issues
Some children who feel lonely and alienated turn to invisible strangers in online chat rooms looking for the attention and companionship missing from their real lives.
What are the risks of unsupervised internet use?
- accessing areas that are inappropriate or overwhelming
- being exposed to online information that promotes hate, violence, and pornography
- being misled and bombarded with intense advertising
- being invited to register for prizes or to join a club when they are providing personal or household information to an unknown source
- losing time from developing real social skills and from physical activity and exercise
- revealing too much personal information on social media sites
- being bullied on social media sites
How do we promote responsible internet use in children?
In order to make a child’s online experience safer and more educational, parents should:
- limit the amount of time a child spends online and “surfing the web”
- teach a child that talking to “screen names” in a “chat room” is the same as talking with strangers
- teach a child never to give out any personal identifying information to another individual or website online
- teach a child to never agree to actually meet someone they have met online
- never give a child credit card numbers or passwords that will enable online purchases or access to inappropriate services or sites
- remind a child that not everything they see or read online is true
- make use of the parental control features offered with your online service, or obtaining commercially available software programs, to restrict access to “chat lines,” news groups, and inappropriate websites
- provide for an individual e-mail address only if a child is mature enough to manage it, and plan to periodically monitor the child’s e-mail and online activity
- monitor the content of a child’s personal webpage and screen name profile information
- teach a child to use the same courtesy in communicating with others online as they would if speaking in person — i.e. no vulgar or profane language, no name calling, etc.
- insist that a child follow the same guidelines at other computers that they might have access to, such as those at school, libraries, or friends’ homes
Parents should remember that communicating online does not prepare children for real interpersonal relationships. Spending time with a child initially exploring an online service and periodically participating with a child in the online experience gives parents an opportunity to monitor and supervise the activity. It is also an opportunity to learn together.