“Internet addiction disorder,” along with other sorts of technology addiction, is not currently listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as an official addiction. Researchers say further study needs to be conducted before an official definition can be agreed upon. With that said, many behaviors around technology look very similar to recognized addictions, such as those to drugs and alcohol. At what point should we become concerned if our teens begin showing the signs of an addiction to technology?
For those of us born before the “Dot Com Boom” of the late 80’s and early 90’s, it can almost seem like our world is “too distracted” with technology. We’re not Luddites, but at the same time, we recognize that the world hasn’t always been accessible by a square of plastic in our pockets. The thing we need to recognize, however, is that our teenagers HAVE grown up in this extremely technically saturated world. They are comfortable navigating this complex network of communication. For them, this world is just as “normal” as everything else, and to ignore this fact is to ignore the reality for our teens.
The key, however, is to be aware that even technologically savvy teenagers can become addicted to their technology. The problem is, many tech companies are using our psychology against us in the virtual world of computer networks; our addiction to their services is their bread and butter. Checking email triggers the reward pathways our brains developed in hunter/gatherer cultures to encourage survival. Social networks abuse our desire to have expansive social communities, and the constant desire for “friends” and “likes” can encourage us to spend excessive amounts of time currying favor with our social networks (and looking at their advertisements). Many “free to play” games use the very psychology of their players against them, using time delays and multiple currencies to blur the costs involved in “accelerating” game play.
The question becomes, is the quality of life for your teen suffering due to the use of technology? If not, large amounts of technology use may not be an issue for your teen. If it is affecting quality of life, however, even occasional use of technology could be a problem! The only way to be sure is to actually sit down and talk about your teen’s technology use. Ask if it actually brings joy; is your teen using words like “chore” or “grind,” or referring to a virtual task as a “priority” or “necessity?” Ask if technology use is leaving them exhausted, does it feels like work? When a supposed hobby feels like work, it’s time to assess one’s situation!
The worst thing you could do, however, is to try to take technology away from your teen “cold turkey.” Our world is so saturated with technology, the “cold turkey” option would only encourage your teenager to seek a technology “fix” elsewhere. This does not mean you cannot set up boundaries and expectations for technology use in your home. Encourage your teenager to leave the phone on the charger during dinner time, for example. If you take time to discuss your boundaries with your teenager, they’re more likely to abide by them, making enforcement of the “rules” easier.
Just be aware that simply enforcing rules on technology use does not solve any underlying problems the technology use may be covering up. If your teenager has a technology addition, it’s important to find the need that they are filling with their technology. Discussing the need to find balance in technology use can help both you and your teen fulfill your needs for fulfillment and social interaction, without the Internet getting in the way.