Adolescents’ Computer Addiction: Signs, Consequences, Treatment

He sits at the computer all day long,” this is how parents often talk about their child’s vacation. Football in the yard, rubber bands and hopscotch are becoming a thing of the past – children are spending more and more time in the virtual world. This material is about how to understand when computer addiction is harmful, and how to deal with teenagers’ computer addiction.

What is internet addiction

Without computers, smartphones and the Internet, it is difficult to imagine modern life. We communicate in instant messengers and social networks, find out news on websites, and even school grades are received by children in electronic diaries. Many professions are also associated with computers, from programmers to accountants.

Even computer games can become a serious occupation. Since 2001, esports has been recognized as an official sport in our country, and in the United States, the first esports tournaments appeared even earlier. And the question arises: how to draw the line beyond which e-sports and a healthy passion for technology turn into computer addiction in teenagers.

The term “Internet addiction” appeared with the light hand of the American psychiatrist Ivan Goldberg. He had in mind such a passion for the virtual world, from which the social and professional activities of a person suffer.

Today, Internet addiction in adolescents and adults is called a behavioral disorder in which a person has an obsessive desire to go online and loses control over the time spent in front of the monitor.

American neuroscientists conducted a study on the problem of gambling and found that the desire to play computer games activates the same areas of the brain that are responsible for cravings for drugs and gambling. All these addictions are somewhat similar, although gambling does not destroy health in the same way as a drug one.

Types of computer addiction

Children spend time online in different ways. Boys are more fond of shooting games like Doom or Counter-Strike, while girls can scroll through the Instagram feed for hours. There are three types of computer addiction, although they all have the same mechanism:

Gaming Addiction is an excessive passion for computer games, which are gradually replacing real life. Realistic graphics and rich storyline give the child emotions, and game chats can fully satisfy the child’s need for communication. Also, many games have ratings, daily tasks, reward systems, which additionally keeps players.

Addiction to Social Networks is an obsessive desire to check for new likes and messages, scroll through the feed for a long time, and make online acquaintances. In social networks, it is easy for teenagers to overcome insecurities and create an ideal image of themselves. But the greater the gap with reality, the more difficult it is to accept your appearance without filters and real life, which seems too boring and gray.

Internet Surfing Addiction – all sorts of sites and YouTube videos can be useful if a teenager watches them for some reason. It is quite another thing – aimless wandering on the network. In fact, this is procrastination, which gradually takes more and more time.

Signs of computer addiction in teenagers

Frequent use of the computer does not always mean addiction. The key difference between passion and a real behavioral disorder is the loss of control over cravings for games or social networks, a blurred line between the virtual and real world. Everyday affairs gradually lose their meaning and become a burden that you want to end quickly in order to immerse yourself in virtual life.

Some parents consider computer addiction just a bad habit or a gap in parenting, but mental health professionals suggest treating it as a disease. In 2019, gaming disorders, including addiction to computer games, were included in the International Classification of Diseases.

Symptoms of computer addiction in teenagers:

  • The need to spend all free time online, lack of other hobbies and hobbies
  • Withdrawal Syndrome: anxiety, irritability when unable to go online
  • Repeatedly lying to parents or other loved ones about the time spent on the computer
  • Irritability, aggression in response to prohibitions or persuasion to distract from a computer game, social networks
  • The desire to continue playing, despite problems in school, damaged relationships with parents and friends
  • Neglect of appearance and personal hygiene – a teenager can stop washing without a reminder, becomes indifferent to his appearance
  • Physical signs: insomnia, nervousness, dry, inflamed eyes, headaches. As one of the consequences of computer addiction, adolescents may develop carpal tunnel syndrome (wrist pain due to mouse operation)

Who gets addicted and why

Many children get acquainted with the computer as early as 2-3 years old, but not all become addicted during adolescence. Often, excessive craving for the virtual world appears in children who are left to their own devices and have not learned to enjoy hobbies, reading, sports.

Then a teenager, in pursuit of positive emotions, chooses the easiest way: TV shows, junk food, computer games. All of this is effortless pleasure and quickly addictive.

Typical Causes of Computer Addiction in Teenagers

  • Lack of bright emotions
    Computer games and videos in social networks can be compared with fast food – “fast food” for the psyche and brain. In real life, bright events require activity, activity, and in the virtual world, it is enough to start the game. True, like fast food, virtual events only satisfy the “hunger”, but do not help to develop.
  • Shyness, communication problems
    In games and social networks, in order to attract attention, it is enough to comment on someone’s photo or go through one mission together. Dating is much more difficult in real life, so for shy teenagers, the Internet environment seems like a good way out.
    It really expands the circle of friends, but on the other hand, the child never learns to make friends in everyday life. Moreover, he may lose interest in this.
  • The desire to prove superiority, to gain recognition
    Building castles, killing monsters, or filming a video for a social network, a teenager receives admiration and support that he does not have in the real world. He feels significant and important, sees likes as the approval of peers.

It is useless to think about how to wean a teenager from computer addiction if he does not have situations of success offline. And such situations will not appear out of nowhere if you turn off the Internet at home – you need to work on them.

Another factor that can contribute to the development of computer addiction in children and adolescents is the lack of traditions of recreation in the family. Family trips, sports, and DIY hobbies teach kids to have fun doing things. But if it is customary in the family to spend time in front of the TV, the child has nowhere to learn another way to rid himself of boredom.

Internet Addiction Stages

Gambling addiction has long attracted the attention of psychiatrists, and today their professional interest has shifted from gambling to online games. Gambling addiction in adolescents and adults, like any disease, has its stages. Today, the Kekelidze-Shemchuk classification is popular, according to which a complete immersion in virtual life takes place in 4 stages.

  • Preclinical stage
    The child has a need to play or spend a lot of time online, but there is no computer   addiction yet, and the help of a psychologist teacher or the parents themselves is enough.
    The problem is usually in the inability to communicate or have fun without a mobile phone and a computer. But if a teenager is offered an interesting business, he breaks away from online entertainment. Therefore, the first stage is easily reversible, the main thing is not to start the situation.
  • Clinical personality changes
    A teenager is looking for an opportunity to play or access social networks as often as possible, he does not know how to relax and rest in another way. There is almost no interest in other entertainment, or they clearly lose in his system of priorities.
    School absenteeism, lies to parents and teachers, spending all pocket money on paid options in the game may appear here. To help a teenager get rid of computer addiction at this stage, decisive measures are needed – psychological and pedagogical suggestions will not be enough. Parents need to create a worthy competitor to the Internet. For example, go in for sports together or go on a long hike.
  • Clinical Addiction
    At this stage, the teenager is not able to easily break away from the game, even if he wants to. All his thoughts and plans are somehow connected with the game, many specific terms appear in his speech. If for some reason he does not have the opportunity to sit down at the computer, a withdrawal syndrome occurs: depression, irritability, anxiety.
    The child becomes indifferent to family affairs, may show callousness to parents and relatives. At this stage, parents will not be able to deal with computer addiction in a teenager on their own – they need the help of a psychotherapist.
  • Structural personality changes
    The stage of desocialization, when a teenager finally drops out of public life. This stage is characterized by indifference to one’s appearance, the ability to go without food and sleep for a long time, despite feeling unwell.
    A dependent person becomes indifferent to the outside world, nothing pleases him or interests him. If others try to talk, distract, he reacts aggressively. Such a strong computer addiction among teenagers is rare, but when the situation is so neglected, urgent help is needed.

Consequences of computer addiction

If the Internet and the computer become the main channels of communication, this can greatly affect the socialization of a teenager. The network does not use facial expressions and gestures, emotions are expressed with emoticons, and in case of any conflicts, you can simply leave the chat. The child does not use all the means of communication, does not develop them – all this impoverishes communication.

Another important point is violations in the formation of attachments. It’s easy to make friends online, but it’s just as easy to break up. You can add one interlocutor to the black list and immediately find a new one. As a result, the teenager will not have the experience of real relationships with all their difficulties, grinding, quarrels and reconciliations.

An equally harmful consequence of computer addiction in adolescents can be considered the illusion of achievements that develops among avid gamers or bloggers. In games, you can create a whole universe in a few days, and if something didn’t work out, go through the level again. It’s not easy to succeed in life. At the same time, only a few are seriously involved in e-sports or the development of their blog, while the rest retain the illusion of achievements while their real life is being destroyed.

Computer games do not affect the level of aggression A long-term study by American scientists did not reveal a connection between addiction to violent games and an increased level of aggression.

Project participants who loved violent video games as teenagers were no more aggressive at 23 than their peers who had never played such games.

Health implications

Computer addiction is often accompanied by a number of somatic problems. Muscles weaken from hypodynamia, posture deteriorates and scoliosis develops. Irregular meals and fast food, which children love to snack on while playing, lead to gastritis. Finally, a long stay in front of the monitor inevitably affects vision.

Such problems are clearly visible to parents, but may be invisible to a teenager. Engaged in the game, children often do not notice hunger and lack of sleep. However, all this affects health.

How to treat computer addiction in teenagers

Parents should first of all pay attention to the situation in the family and at school – this is the closest environment of a teenager, where the roots of all his problems usually lie. In the early stages, it is enough to improve the atmosphere in the family and offer the child an interesting hobby.

And in order to understand how to cure computer addiction in a teenager, if it has already formed and there are negative consequences, it is important to consult a psychologist and find a solution together.

Possible treatments:

  • Gestalt therapy, psychoanalysis, cognitive behavioral therapy and other psychotherapeutic methods, including hypnosis. You can work with addictions in different areas, it is better for parents to choose not a method, but a good specialist.
  • Drug treatment – selected exclusively by a psychiatrist (the psychologist does not prescribe medications). As a rule, this method is used if clinical depression is diagnosed, which became the cause of addiction.

Any disease is better to prevent than to cure. Methodological recommendations from psychologists aimed at preventing computer addiction include working with a teenager on choosing an active hobby, on life goals. You need to pay attention to this as early as possible, until the hobby for the computer goes beyond the norm.

Three principles of getting rid of computer addiction:

  • Awareness of the problem – working on any addiction begins with the fact that a person must admit: “I have a problem.” Without this, it is possible to cure a teenager only in the early stages, when the addiction has not yet formed, and it is enough to switch his attention from the computer to other things.
  • Participation of the whole family – it is difficult to achieve an effect if only a psychotherapist deals with the treatment of computer addiction in a teenager, and the situation in the family does not change in any way. The reason for going into the virtual world is often a lack of warmth, closeness, communication with loved ones. It is important for parents to remember that they influence the success of treatment no less than specialists.
  • Search for a new hobby – instead of a computer, a teenager should have new interesting things: active hobbies, sports. It is desirable that they require interaction with other people – then the child will form a new social circle that will support him.

Children in the family should have a choice of how to spend their free time and what to get involved in. If from an early age cartoons were the only option for recreation, there is a high probability that they will be replaced by video games and social networks, because the child will not form ideas about entertainment without gadgets.

How to help a child: tips for parents

  • It is impossible to prohibit the use of a computer or access to the Internet at all – children will need them for their studies. But it can be shown that computer technologies are created not only for entertainment. Behind the monitor, you can do programming, web design, etc. Even games are not a waste of time – eSports is an official discipline.
  • While the psychologist is working on how to save a teenager from computer addiction, it is up to parents to create a comfortable environment at home. If you constantly scold and criticize the child until he “corrects”, the level of stress will only increase, and the result of treatment will be worse.
  • It is not necessary to expect that the child will have enough communication with parents and study, so as not to feel lonely. In adolescence, the company of peers is important – so let the child have the opportunity to have it in sports or creative sections.
  • To get rid of computer addiction, a teenager needs motivation. He must understand that interesting things await him in the future, and know how to go to achieve success. Parents can help if they talk with the child about the future profession, be interested in his inclinations and thus create a base for new hobbies.
  • An online game is often a way to relieve stress and throw out negative emotions. It is important to teach your teenager how to deal with emotions in a different way, as well as to provide him with support in stressful situations (even if the cause of stress seems to be a small thing).

What you shouldn’t do

  • Fight with physical methods – turn off the Internet and force the child to take a walk or read. It doesn’t work, new interests don’t just pop up.
  • Focus on the negative and scare the player with the health consequences. As a rule, children do not attach due importance to this – they realize the harm to health much later.
  • It is harsh to point out the disease – to call a gamer, crazy, to say “you will be cured.” This can cause the opposite effect and only push the child away from going to a psychologist or psychotherapist.
  • Take the child to a specialist by force. Sometimes this is justified, but dependence on a computer is not the case. If a teenager refuses help, it is better to go to a consultation with the parents themselves, so that the psychologist suggests a way out of the situation.
  • Criticize online friends. Even if they really have a bad effect on the child, he will not accept criticism, and as a result, parents only risk ruining the relationship.
  • Stay away from the situation and wait for the problem to resolve itself. Treatment of computer addiction requires the active participation of parents and patience, otherwise you can lose time and reach the stage where even the help of a specialist is not always effective.

The computer, like everything in this world, is not an absolute evil, but a tool. It can be useful for a child if parents teach him how to use it correctly.

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