It’s 2018 and approximately 87 percent of Americans have a computer in their home. Computers have a wide variety of uses; people use them to work, to play games, to access the Internet, to send emails, and to post on social media. There’s no doubt about it: a computer (or a similar device such as a tablet or a smartphone) can make life easier in a lot of ways. Unfortunately, just like anything else, it can be used past the point of moderation and cause an addiction. Approximately 8 percent of video gamers between the age of 8 and 18 might be addicted to their computer. Read on to find out the signs, effects, and treatments for computer addiction.
Symptoms of Computer Addiction
Most teens do use their computers and other devices, and it can be difficult to tell whether behaviors are just normal use or if your teen is developing (or has developed) an addiction. The amount of time spent online is not necessarily an indication that a teen is developing an addiction unless it’s excessive; keep in mind that teens do use their computers for schoolwork and that in some cases, homework might take several hours. In this case, using the computer for hours each day might only mean that you have a diligent student on your hands.
The signs of computer addiction revolve more around the feelings that accompany the computer use. Here are some of them:
- Preoccupation with using the computer. When they’re not using it, they might be thinking about what they’ll do the next time they use it.
- Depression or anxiety when computer use is restricted. For example, your teen might get very stressed when they travel and they don’t have access to their computer. Or maybe they panic when the Internet goes out after a storm.
- Isolation – not spending time with friends or family because they are choosing to spend time on the computer instead. (Do remember, however, that many teens use the computer as a communication device, much like the teens of decades past used the telephone to communicate with friends.)
- Lying about the amount of time spent on the computer.
- Running to the computer to console themselves when there is a disappointment or other negative event.
Because the signs of computer addiction are subtle and easily hidden, it’s often difficult for parents to know that their teens have a problem. The effects of computer addiction, however, are less subtle and should prompt concern.
Effects of Computer Addiction
The reason that computer addiction is something that warrants attention is that it can negatively affect various parts of your teen’s life. For example, if your teen is isolating him- or herself from friends, they might find that they have very little social life to speak of. It could also, over time, lead to social anxiety (although it’s also possible that those prone to social anxiety are also prone to computer addiction because communicating via a screen can be less intimidating than communicating in person).
Any type of addiction, including a computer addiction, can lead to trouble in school and trouble maintaining employment. You might find that your teen’s grades are slipping due to too much time spent on the computer and not enough time spent on schoolwork. Or he or she might lose their place on their sports team or their part-time job. As teens move into adulthood, the consequences of not being able to hold down a job become more serious.
There are also physical effects of a computer addiction. Sitting for hours per day is not good for the cardiovascular system or the muscles. Your teen might begin to put on weight if they’re not moving around enough; if it’s excessive, this could put them at risk for diseases caused by overweight and obesity.
Dehydration and malnutrition can occur if your teen is not taking adequate breaks for meals, snacks, and liquids. There have even been cases of young people developing potentially fatal deep vein thrombosis and lung embolisms from sitting still and using a computer for many hours at a time.
Treatment for Computer Addiction
Any addiction is best treated by professionals. Unlike a drug or alcohol addiction, computer addiction will not necessitate giving up online access for life; that’s not feasible in most cases because technology is a part of life for almost everyone. Instead, it will focus on managing the behaviors and the compulsions that characterize the condition.
Treatment for any type of addiction needs to also take into consideration any other mental health issues that are causing or exacerbating the addiction. For example, social anxiety or depression could be a contributing factor in a computer or Internet addiction. Those with poor impulse control, such as teens with ADHD, might be more prone to addictions of all kinds. Someone who has an addiction to gambling or pornography can also have a computer addiction. It’s important to treat those conditions along with the computer addiction.
The treatments for the computer addiction itself include cognitive behavioral therapy and also gradually reducing the amount of time that the individual spends on the computer. They also talk about the ways that their computer usage is affecting various parts of their life. In addition to individual counseling, family counseling is sometimes recommended because other members of the family are often affected by one family member’s computer addiction.
In some cases, inpatient treatment is used as a “cold turkey” approach. The teen won’t have access to computers or their smartphone, and they instead learn other ways to cope with negative feelings and boredom.
If you are concerned that your teenager might have a computer addiction, talk to them about how they are feeling, but understand that one hallmark of the condition is denying that there is a problem. Consider talking to your teen’s primary doctor about your concerns. They can refer you to an addiction specialist or an inpatient program as appropriate. Getting a handle on this addiction now can improve your teen’s chances of having a successful and fulfilling adulthood.