Family Life, Parenting

Internet Addiction Disorder and Strategies to Create a Healthy Tech Diet at Home

Places don’t matter to people anymore. Places aren’t the point. People are only ever half present where they are these days. They always have at least one foot in the great digital nowhere.

Matt Haig, How to Stop TIme

Recent studies now show that our teens are at a higher risk to suffer from Internet Addiction Disorder. Everyone these days has some kind of technological device, a smartphone, iPad, laptop, you name it; it is the norm. If you do not have one, you are considered old-schooled. Decades ago, the world managed without today’s kind of technology. Now, we cannot seem to go about our daily lives without it. Society has been going through rapid change and our teens are the ones impacted the most by this. The onus is now on parents to create healthy tech diets at home.

About two years ago, I attended a presentation by Dr. Shimi Kang hosted by Hamilton Health Sciences in Hamilton, Ontario. The information Dr. Kang shared opened my mind and eyes to a whole new concept. The presentation entitled “Smart Phones Smart Kids?” focused on the growing use of technology among young kids and its impact on the brain. Dr. Kang directed her talk to internet addiction and the physical, emotional and social impact it had on children. In the end, she suggested strategies that parents can use to implement a “healthy tech diet” in the home. 

Internet Addiction – Is This A Real Thing?

With the increased use of technology, doctors, educators and the public are paying more attention to its impact on youth and families. Recent scientific research indicates that Internet Addiction may be a very real thing and is becoming a serious mental health issue. An article in PLoS One coined the term Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD). The study described the disorder as the inability to control one’s internet use, which may have a potential impact on social relationships, academic performance, behaviour and, career interests.

Common Sense Media also looked at studies that showed both parents and children spend a tremendous amount of time using technological devices. Not a lot is known about Internet Addiction particularly how it can be measured, but reports revealed that this emerging phenomenon:

  • Is potentially quite serious
  • Causes friction within families, and
  • May be affecting one’s ability to stay focused
Internet use starts from a very young age and can evolve into IAD
Young child using a device at a young age – Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

As families become more technology-focused, social isolation also increases. Everyone goes off into their own corners with little or no interaction. Sometimes it gets so bad, family members text each other from different rooms to communicate.

Parents now use technology to distract their children simply because it is easier. How many of you can relate to this? The bigger question is are we creating a bigger problem when we do this?

Several studies done with teens showed a strong correlation between teen depression and internet addiction and the role social media can play.

How To Tell If Your Child Has IAD

Watching movies on the internet, shopping online or even engaging on your social media, does not mean that you have IAD.

There are certain symptoms that appear when someone has IAD. In the article, Internet Addiction Disorder – Signs, Symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments for those who may be addicted to the Web on their PC or smart phone, Dr. Christine Gregory outlined some of the symptoms as:

  • anxiety
  • agitation
  • avoidance
  • mood swings
  • procrastination
  • no sense of time
  • headaches
  • nausea
  • back pain

and several more.

Internet Addiction Disorder seems to affect the pleasure centre of the brain and imitates addiction behaviours similar to those brought on by alcohol and drugs. This is extremely serious, but it is can be easily avoided.

Internet Addiction Disorder is known to cause depression in teens
Internet Addiction Disorder can lead to depression in teens – Photo by Yuris Alhumaydy on Unsplash

Strategies To Create A Healthy Tech Diet

If your family has heavy tech users, there are ways to control usage and reduce the negative impacts. The following strategies can help you create a healthy tech diet in your home.

  • Use a contract with your child that outlines rules about technology use and the consequences for breaking those rules. The downloadable file below is a parent’s pledge to help their child with internet use.
  • Know the passwords for the devices and periodically check what your child is doing, especially on social media.
  • Create tech-free zones in the home such as bedrooms.
  • Limit screen time to one or two hours a day (depending on age)
  • Choose age-appropriate games, videos, movies and apps.

Managing Internet Use During Covid-19 Quarantine

It is a fact that Covid-19 threw us all into a tailspin. Many families now work from home, the children are doing school online, they are chatting with their friends on Facetime or Skype and playing internet games. This may seem excessive, but it is still manageable. Parents still need to set up boundaries and rules around internet use and screen time.

Here are some more strategies that you can try while at home during the quarantine.

  • Allow time for regular play or take a walk in the neighbourhood
  • Bring out the board games or puzzles
  • Set aside time for reading a book
  • Let children work alongside you while you work
  • Shut off devices at bedtime

With these tools and increased awareness, parents can do their part to reduce the risk of internet addiction, ensuring a healthier more positive use of devices and internet use.

Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) has growing negative impacts on teens.
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