Over the past few years there has been an increase in parents asking me about technology addiction. These parents are worried that their kids are spending too much time playing video games, using social media, or watching TV and they want to know if it is a problem and what they can do about it.

Is it a problem?
When trying to determine if your kid’s technology use is problem or not, it is important to ask a few questions. The first thing you will want to ask is, does their use get in the way of their responsibilities? For example, if a kid is so caught up playing video games that they often miss school, work or are persistently resistant to other age appropriate responsibilities, it may be an indication of a problem. Another question you want to ask is, what they are doing when they are online? If their use can or does impact their safety or health and the use continues despite the issues it creates there might be a problem with their use. For example, if a kid is using a teen dating app to meet up with new people and it is obvious there is high level risk in doing that or they are hiding it from you, these would be significant safety concerns and indicate a potential problem; particularly if they continue to do it despite your initial attempts to set boundaries with it. Other symptoms of Technology Addiction In addition to the symptoms listed above, there also might be an increase in irritation or irritability when not using technology, increase in anger, increase in depression, isolating from others, difficulty forming new relationships or connecting with others, decrease in work/school performance or athletics, family system issues, negative self-image, procrastination, no sense of time, boredom with routine tasks, feeling of euphoria when using technology, difficulty paying attention, difficulty with emotional processing, increase in suicidal ideations and increase in impulsivity.

What Can You do About it?
When it comes to treating technology addiction, the first thing to know is that controlled use has taken precedence over abstinence. It is almost impossible to remove computers and technology completely from someone’s life because of how we, as a society, use technology in everyday life. With that being said, there are several different things that can be done to help reduce use and improve mental health. According to Dr. Kimberly Young, the following techniques are extremely helpful in addressing technology addiction.

  1. Practicing the opposite – Discover the patterns of internet use and disrupt these patterns by suggesting new schedules. For example, if your kid goes online as soon as he or she arrives home from school and remains online until it is time to go to bed, you may suggest that he or she take a break for dinner, engage in another activity, and only then go back to the computer.
  2. Using external stoppers – Kids can use real events or activities to prompt themselves to log off of the internet. For example, the use of an alarm clock to function as a warning for your kid that it is time to turn off the computer and carry out some other offline activity, such as going to work or school or doing their chore.
  3. Setting goals – Help your kid to come up with specific, achievable goals with regard to the amount of time spent online. For example, if your kid remains online all day long on Saturdays and Sundays, creating scheduled times of brief use, followed by frequent breaks where they are engaging in other activities.
  4. Selective abstinence from certain applications – Encourage abstinence to only those applications that your kid is unable to control. This means that kids should stop navigating particular web sites or even certain applications (e.g. Facebook, online games) that are most attractive for them, discontinuing the use from time to time, shifting to alternative forms such as sending and receiving e-mail, news search, bibliographical sources for their school work, and so on.
  5. Using cues – Use visible cues that remind kids of the costs of their internet addiction and the benefits of breaking the addiction. For example, a card containing the five major problems caused by internet addiction, as well as the five major benefits from reducing the use (or ultimately refraining from using a given application) should be listed.
  6. Making personal inventories – Help the kids to recognize the benefits of breaking their habit by showing them all the activities that they used to engage in or cannot find the time for because of internet addiction.
  7. Support groups – These are useful because many Internet addicts are said to use the Internet to compensate for a lack of social support.
  8. Family interventions – Family therapy may be helpful when problematic behaviors have disrupted the family unit. A combination of behavior modification, emotionally focused intervention, cognitive restructuring and crisis management could be considered, depending on the presenting problem.
    Prevention is key and one way to prevent internet addiction is to help create an environment that offers appealing opportunities for challenges, meeting new people and having new experiences so kids can genuinely experience real life using all of their senses. Additionally, partnering with them to help them understand the nature of addiction, signs and symptoms and getting them to buy into some of the the strategies noted above will also be helpful in turning the tide toward a more balance technology based experience.

Tommy is an Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the Denver area. An EMDR trained licensed addictions counselor, he works with youth and families often in a more out of the box format to meet the client where they are at. He is part of the High Mountain Counseling & Training Institutes crew of highly trained therapists and also runs his own private private practice as well. More information can be found at: mountainmindstherapy.com

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