This is a summary of the parenting seminar given by Colleen Hirst on 4th Nov 2015 on the topic of 'Internet Addiction'.
The internet can be great, but it can take over our time. This is especially true given the effect of ‘doubling’.
‘Doubling’ is the phenomena of information growth. It comes in the form of news, texts, blogs, articles, web sites / web pages, emails, social media posts etc. Sociologists claim that from the year 0 AD, it took another 1,500 years for worldwide information to double. After that another 250 years, then 150 years. By WWII it only took 25 years. Now global information doubles every 1-2 years and IBM predicts that it won’t be long before worldwide information is doubling every 12 hours!
It is impossible to keep up and we are becoming internet addicts.
Colleen defined addiction as ‘a state of being enslaved to a substance or practice that is habit forming to the extent that cessation causes trauma.’ When it comes to internet addiction she says it is “an impulse control disorder. It refers to the compulsive need to spend a great deal of time on the Internet, to the point where relationships, work and health are allowed to suffer.”
Addictions often develop through a process
- Temptation – “I’ll just check Facebook, eBay, my emails, that porn site... “
- Yielding – “I know I shouldn’t but just a quick look and then I’ll get off / get back to work”
- Habit – we are constantly do it, a habit is formed
- Bondage – we become slaves to our addiction; we cannot help ourselves, it controls us
- Stronghold – our addiction begins to ruin our lives – relationships, work, finances etc
Examples of our internet addiction include – constant checking of social media (Facebook, Instagram etc); constant checking of emails and texts; excessive online shopping; compulsive watching pornography or Youtube videos etc; compulsive online gambling, constant playing of online games (computer or phone)
Our internet addiction has wide ranging social, emotional and physical implications:
- Literacy skills are declining – we are used to skimming information, websites and search results but concentrated reading and comprehension is declining. Since 2009 there has been a 40% drop in kids ability to focus
- We’re losing the ability to connect – we are substituting face to face interaction and socialisation with online connecting and socialising. Young people are losing the capacity to live in real world; they can't live without social media or internet
- We’re becoming more self-focused – social media tends to focus on US. It’s about the images, status updates and messages about ME that I want to world to see. Sociologists say there has been a 40% drop in empathy.
- Facebook Depression – we compare our digital lives with the glorified lives of others on social media and despair that our life is not as good. Young people are suffering severe self-esteem issues as a result – “my photo only got X amount of ‘likes’!”
- Giving young kids access to too much internet ‘wires’ their brains to think and act in particular ways and inhibits normal neurological development
- We’re becoming increasingly distracted
- Addiction has lead to death and physical illness (e.g. gamers not eating or sleeping for days)
- We’re spending increasing amounts of time together, but doing it alone. Social networking is leading to a new form of isolation
Colleen gave numerous indicators of internet addiction
- Decreasing interest in participating in other activities
- Continuously talking about digital devices, games etc
- Euphoria when on devices
- Angry, agitated, irritable, restless when digital devices are taken away
- Using devious behaviour to obtain screen time
- Checking, checking, checking….
- Purchasing in-game items with real life money
- Craving more screen time
- Lack of awareness of time spent on the internet
- Neglecting hygiene, chores, study, hobbies, friends, work, family, responsibilities etc
While many of us and our kids have developed unhealthy and sometimes destructive habits, Colleen assured us that we can change. Habits can be broken, new patterns can be established. However it takes time and effort. Often it takes 4 months to begin to change, and 12-18 months to break the habit and effect the change.
There is a common change cycle people go through when wanting to change
- Pre-contemplation – not thinking about or rejecting change (“I’m okay, no issues with me”). Living in harms way
- Contemplation – Thinking and talking about change, seeking support (“I might have a problem”). Tired of living in harms way
- Planning – Planning what it would take to make change happen (“I need to hand over my passwords to a trusted friend”). Strategising how to move out of harms way
- Action – Taking positive steps by putting the plan into action. (“Can you please reset my Facebook password until after exams”). Gradually moving out of harms way
- Maintenance – Achieving positive and concrete developments with continuing and then decreasing support (“This is working. I’m feeling better”). Living out of harms way
Often during this process we will relapse and that is to be expected. Don’t give up when you relapse. We will need to go through this process between 7-10 times to break the habit and develop better patterns of internet use.
Colleen gave us a number of strategies to help develop better patterns and use of the internet
- Check your checking – how much do you or your kids check phone, email, computer etc
- Set time limits
- Disconnect to reconnect – have an internet detox of 48 hrs. If you can’t, you have issues
- Digital diet – work out what is good and healthy and stick to it
For parents, Colleen suggests:
- Set an example – manage your own screen time
- Be present – no digital checking when talking with family
- Meal-times ought to be device free
- Bedrooms ought to be device free at set times
- Monitor kids real life vs digital friendships – are they balanced
- Time limits for screen time
- Gain access to their devices – know their passwords to check their use
- Learn their technology, read app reviews
Her final comments were to say that as parents we cannot stop our kids using the internet – it is part of the world we live in. Barring them from accessing it is not the solution. What we need to do is help them to use it well. To do that we not only need to model that and be a positive example to them of how to use the internet and our phones well, be we also need to be connected to them relationally. Build relationships with your kids so they will respect you, follow you and know you have their best interests at heart when you work with them to put the right strategies in place for their mental, emotional and physical well being.
Four books that Colleen recommended are:
- Unplugged – how to live mindfully in a digital world (Orianna Fielding)
- Hooked on Games – The lure and cost of video game and internet addiction (Andrew P.Doan, MD, PhD with Brooke Strickland)
- Sexts, Texts and Selfies – How to keep your children safe in the digital space (Susan McLean)
- Internet Addiction – A Handbook and Guide to Evaluation and Treatment (Kimberly S. Young and Cristiano Nabuco de Abreu)