Keeping tabs on our teens' online habits doesn't just keep them safe from online predators. More and more parents are becoming wary of the excessive hours their teens spend surfing the web, withdrawing from family, friends and activities they used to enjoy. Internet Addiction is a devastating problem facing far too many teens and their families. While medical professionals have done limited research on the topic, more and more are recognizing this destructive behavior and even more, the potential mental effects it can have.
Though the web is a great place for learning and can be safe for keeping in touch, it is important that families understand the potential risks and dangers to find a healthy balance between real and virtual life.
The Basics: The Dangers of Teen Internet Addiction
It’s clear that, for teenagers, spending too much time online can really deter social and educational development. The Internet world is such that there is always something new to do and to distract one from one’s responsibilities. We all do it- take ten minutes here or there to explore our favorite gossip or sports site. There is nothing wrong with using the Internet as a tool for research, news, and even entertainment. After all, the World Wide Web is the world’s most accurate, up to date resource for almost any type of information.
But as the Internet evolves and becomes more tailored to the individual, it grows increasingly easier to develop a dependency on it. This is especially true for teens- a group that tends to be susceptible to flashy graphics and easily enticed by the popularity of social networks. In a sense, the Internet is the new video game or TV show. It used to be that adolescents would sit in front of the TV for hours on end operating a remote, shooting people and racing cars. Now they surf the web. Teens are impressionable and can at times be improperly equipped to handle certain situations with a degree of reason and rationality. And although they may have good intentions, they might be at risk of coming across something inappropriate and even dangerous.
We’ve all heard the stories about children entering chat rooms who end up talking to someone older than them who may be looking for something more than merely a chat. These tales may sound far-fetched, or to some, even mundane, because of the publicity they’ve received, but as a parent it would be rather foolish to dismiss them as hearsay or as something that could never actually happen to your child. The fact is, these accounts of sexual predation are all too true and have caused some families a great deal of strain and fear. Even pre-adolescents have been known to join chat rooms. The reality is that there is no real way of knowing who might be in one at any given time. An even scarier thought is that these forums are often sexual predators’ main source of contact with young children. In fact, the popular TV show, [To Catch a Predator (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10912603/)], employs someone to pose as a teen and entice these sex offenders. The show profiles the interactions between them all the way up until the actual meeting. Some of the situations portrayed are horrifying. If you’re the parent of a teen or pre-teen, make sure to monitor Internet activity with regards to chat rooms and educate your child on the potential dangers they present.
Sensitive Subject Matter
Human curiosity is perhaps at its peak during one’s teenage years. That curiosity is what aids teens in the growth and development process. It’s necessary for survival as an adolescent and can provide for some great discoveries and maturation. However, teen curiosity can also potentially lead a person into some questionable situations, and the Internet is a prime medium through which to quell one’s inquisitiveness. Let’s face it- teenagers are anxious to be knowledgeable about topics such as sex, drugs, and other dangerous subject matter.
Talking to your teen about these sensitive subjects before he or she has a chance to search online can be a great way to allay his or her need to surf the web for more information. The Internet might be an excellent tool for presenting interesting data, but it can also grossly misrepresent certain issues. If a teenager wants to learn about sex or drugs via the web, he or she might decide to do a search containing the words “sex” or, perhaps “marijuana.” The results your child might find may not necessarily be the type of educational, instructive material you’d hope they would receive. The Internet may be savvy, but one thing it’s not capable of doing is knowing who is using it at any given time and how to customize its settings. Talk to your children about subjects you feel are important before they have the chance to find out themselves. You never know what they might come across.
Limited Social Growth
There is no better time to experience new things and meet new people than during one’s teenage years. Getting outside, going to social gatherings, and just having a good time with friends are among some of the most productive and satisfying activities in which teenagers can engage. While the Internet can provide a degree of social interaction, online networks and connections cannot replace the benefits of in-person contact. Teen Internet Addiction is dangerous because it limits a person’s options when it comes to communication. Much of learning and growing as a teen comes from the lessons one learns through friendships, fights, disagreements, trends, popularity, etc.
The Internet has made it all too easy for teens to recoil from the pressures of adolescence and remain indoors. The lure of the web can often make it seem as though social networks and online gaming are acceptable substitutes for real life. Teens can find acceptance in chat rooms and message boards, while at school they might be complete outcasts. It’s easy for teenagers to rebuff the idea of interacting with their peers and risking rejection when the Internet can provide for a seemingly relaxed environment. Children need to know that Internet addiction and reliance on online forums will only stunt social growth and make life much more difficult in the future.
Internet dependency also inherently promotes a lifestyle that is not conducive to exercise and physical activity. Many teens tend to become so enthralled in games or chats that peeling them away from the computer can prove to be an ominous task. The entertainment the Internet can provide often trumps the option to leave the house and get exercise. Parents should encourage their teens to use the Internet for school projects and some degree of entertainment, but they should also limit the time that they are allowed to spend on the computer. Begin supporting your child’s involvement in sports teams at an early age and make outside activities fun and interesting. The earlier a child is introduced to the mental and physical benefits of outside activity, the more likely he or she is to avoid inside amusements such as the Internet, TV, and video games.
Nowadays it seems our whole lives can be conducted via the Internet. We can order, purchase, and have groceries delivered all with the click of a few buttons. We can play games, talk to people, find dates, and even attend AA meetings online. The Internet may have made our lives and their day-to-day processes exponentially easier to accomplish, but by the same token it has also increased our dependence on the advantages it can provide. The convenience it creates has been known to cause some people to recoil from outside situations, opting to conduct as much business as possible from home. We must be careful of this trend, especially with teenagers, for whom positive (and negative) social interaction help to form valuable personality and wisdom.