The need for prevention of Internet addiction among children has become apparent in today’s society due to the dangers of adult web sites, auction sites, gaming and gambling sites, chat rooms, and Instant messenger services. Sites of these types can lure curious children in and cause severe problems that may take years to overcome. Children who become addicted to one or more of these types of sites can become isolated, suffer academic or financial difficulties, or become victims of violence or abuse at the hands of Internet “friends”.
There is no official psychological or psychiatric diagnosis called Internet addiction (Lukoff, 2002); however, the American Psychological Association in 1999 presented that nearly 6% of 17,251 persons surveyed met the criteria for compulsive Internet use. It was also shown that over 30% reported using the Net to escape from negative feelings. The vast majority admitted to feelings of time distortion, accelerated intimacy, and feeling uninhibited when on-line (Lukoff).
Prevention of Internet-based Developmental Blocks
It is possible to become addicted to chat rooms or instant messenger services. One warning sign is children who chat more in detail with their Internet friends than with “real life” friends. Addicted children sometimes feel anxious when they have not been on-line recently. Often they give up other hobbies or suffer academically. They become defensive when their use of the Internet is questioned. They often have a sense of “euphoria” when logging on.
Children who might be likely to develop an addiction to the Internet come from all ethnic and racial groups. They can be either male or female. There is no “one” type of child prone to Internet addiction; however, children who already suffer from psychological difficulties such as anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem are at greater risk than other children.
According to Samson and Keen (2002), some other warning signs include the child losing track of time while on-line, prefers to spend time on-line rather than with friends or family, and disobeys time limits that have been set for Internet use. Parents can help to prevent their child from viewing Internet pornography by using software such as Cyberpatrol or Net Nanny. These will block the majority of pornographic web sites. Chapel Communications (2002) has a listing of current software titles designed to block such sites. Most email programs also have filters that can be used to eliminate emails from various types of senders. Parents who are concerned that their child will “get through” these controls can also use programs such as Spector.
Treatment of Internet-based Developmental Blocks
Parents who worry about their children’s use of the Internet can, ironically, find help on the Internet. There are numerous web pages dedicated to helping parents to fight Internet addiction. One such site (Center for Online and Internet Addiction, 2001) has tests that parents can use to help in determining whether their child may be addicted to the Internet. Another site (GLOBALSeek, 2002) formerly provided basic safety rules and tips for parents and children for preventing on-line addiction. Among these tips are:
- – never use your full, real name in a chat room;
- – remove all detailed personal information from any “member profile”;
- – do not give out passwords or credit cards on-line;
- – never agree to meet with someone you met while in a chat room.
Children should also notify a parent or teacher if he or she receives an obscene or objectionable chat message. A child should not interact with anyone who uses objectionable language (GLOBALSeek, 2002).
Treatment of children addicted to the Internet may include family counseling, individual counseling, group counseling and even Internet support groups. Support may also be obtained through local drug and alcohol treatment centers. Internet addiction, like other addictions, can be seen as an embarrassment in a family. It is important for the child to understand the seriousness of the addiction and not to “sweep it under the carpet”. Children can, with help, defeat this addiction. Untreated, however, Internet addiction can cause much pain and anguish for the child and the family.