Monday, March 30, 2015

Internet Addiction & the Family: 13 Steps to Healthier Internet Use

Family Looking at Laptop Over Breakfast

Author: Whitney Hollingshead

When we hear the word “addiction” we most often think of drugs and alcohol. However, in today’s fast paced, tech savvy world, the internet itself is becoming a source of addiction for many parents, teens, and even children.

Addiction sets in when an individual forms an uncontrollable habit of using the internet, even when negative consequences result. For an internet addict, the internet may be a source of escape, or may even provide a sense of euphoria. In addition, the individual believes they have to use the internet to feel normal.

So what are the signs of internet addiction? Read on to learn more about the signs and how you can help family members develop healthy internet habits.

Mother and daughter using tablet PC

Signs of an Internet Addiction

Here are some common signs associated with an internet addiction. Consider these signs in relation to every member of your family. Remember that the person who has a problem with internet usage, may even be you.

  • Loses track of time while using any internet device

  • Loses interest in other activities

  • Spends time online instead of sleeping

  • Becomes agitated or angry when internet time is interrupted or when the internet cannot be accessed

  • Neglects responsibilities like work, household duties, homework, or chores

  • Chooses screen time instead of spending time with family and friends

  • Refuses to follow established family rules regarding internet usage

  • Finds ways to sneak extra internet time, goes online in secret

  • Forms relationships with online friends and neglects friends or family in person

  • Gains or loses weight due to changes in eating and physical activity associated with prolonged time in front of a screen

In order to both deal with any current problems the internet is causing in your home and to help prevent future problems, the internet must become a healthy part of normal family life.


Making the Internet a Healthy Part of Normal Family Life

When used correctly, the internet can enhance family life. So how do you achieve healthy internet habits within your family? Check out the 13 tips below.

  1. Place all computers, televisions, and even portable devices in the central hub of your home. All screen time should always take place out in the open, never in secret. Enforce the rule that screen time is only allowed when an adult is in the room. Never let your child take a device with them to bed.

  1. Use content filters. Whether you use a filter found online, purchase filtering software, or use a filter on your internet router, find a content filter that works. Restricting the content that comes into your home will help prevent future problems. Change Netflix, Hulu, and other subscriptions to family friendly settings.

  1. If your child has a television or computer in their bedroom and you choose to not remove them, use parental controls or a password to limit access so that you are aware of any and all screen time.

  1. Do not allow your child to have any screen time until all of their chores and homework are completed.

  1. Never allow screen time of any kind during dinner, family fun, family discussions, or other family events.

  1. smiling girl holding big clockDecide on a set amount of screen time each day. This time covers all devices, including television and movies. Ask the child how they would prefer to spend their time each day and make them accountable for their choices.

  1. Consider dividing the time between entertainment and further learning. For example, your child may be given 30 minutes to play a spelling game and 30 minutes to watch a cartoon. Any homework that requires screen time should be addressed separately.

  1. Help your children use the internet for good and make sure internet usage is age appropriate and consistent with your family values.

  1. Always encourage your child to ask questions about the world around them. When your child has a question, encourage them to find the answer. The best route is to research the answer with your child. Since the internet is used for research more often than any other source, finding answers to questions together is a great way to teach your children how to use the internet for good. Searching together also enables you to direct your child to appropriate sources of information. (This time should count as further learning time. If you count this time as entertainment time, your child may stop asking questions.) 

  1. Set a timer for the set amount of screen time. When the timer goes off, make your child leave the device and encourage active play afterward. Active play involves hands on activities and/or physical exercise.

  1. Do not use additional screen time as a reward for good behavior. They key is to focus on setting a healthy amount of screen time each day, so rewarding a child with extra time decreases the positive effects. You can, however, use a decrease in the amount of screen time as a consequence for bad behavior.

  1. Strive for a healthy life balance in your home. Structure daily routines around healthy eating, learning, physical exercise, getting adequate rest, conversing with family members, working, and having fun.

  1. Follow all of the rules above yourself and encourage your spouse to do the same. Your children will learn that an appropriate use of screen time can be a normal and healthy part of family life, but only if every family member treats it as such.

Seek Additional Help When Necessary

Using the internet as a healthy part of a normal family life is crucial to preventing internet addiction and helping family members who struggle with addiction; however, you may need additional resources based upon your family’s circumstances. While this article focuses mainly on helping children avoid a drug addiction, the overall suggestions are very applicable to helping with appropriate use of the internet as well.

If any family member is struggling with an internet addiction, reach out to trusted individuals who can provide help. Professional counseling and therapy can be very helpful. If one of your children is struggling with an internet addiction, make sure you inform the child’s teachers, babysitters, and care providers of the problem and the steps you are taking to help your child.

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