Internet addiction a problem for adults and children alike

Jun 23, 2018

The past two decades have seen a spike in the use of technology, so much so that the internet has become prevalent even in the classroom. A psychologist and internationally known expert on internet addiction argues that parents and teachers should be more careful about how much time children are spending in front of screens.

Dr. Kimberly Young, author and founder of the Center for Internet Addiction in 1995, said technology and internet addiction is increasing, especially in children, which can hinder young minds’ development.

Casual internet use, in most cases, is a healthy part of modern society, Young said. It becomes harmful when a person cannot control their internet behavior and it starts to get in the way of a relationship, academic success or a career.

“One of the things about addiction is there’s usually a consequence to it -- taking away from something else,” Young said. “It’s become unmanageable.”

Technology use is not going away, however, and it is now even being introduced to infants. Young sees this as bad practice for long term development.

“Children, developmentally, are behind still,” Young said. “They haven’t really developed their own cognitive skills, so they could have a variety of problems.”

"We don't really recognize internet addiction as other countries do. We're really not doing a whole lot except for promoting what is not really a benign tool."

These problems can include inhibited social skills. Children can isolate themselves in front of screens, avoiding social interaction and physical exercise, which can cause obesity. In addition, they do not exercise cognitive skills necessary for higher brain activities, like reading a physical book.

Despite these issues, Young said there is still controversy in the U.S. about whether technology abuse is a real addiction. She said there is a plethora of scientific research to prove that is a serious addiction, and other countries have realized that and worked to combat it.

“We don’t really recognize internet addiction as other countries do,” Young said. “We’re really not doing a whole lot except for promoting what is not really a benign tool.”

Unlike the treatment for other addictions like alcohol and drugs, a technology addiction cannot realistically be treated through abstinence in today’s society. Instead, Young suggested treating it more like an eating disorder, where professionals work to increase the addict’s following of healthy use in their everyday life.

“It’s not just saying ‘abstinence is the way to treat addiction in this case,’” Young said. “It’s really about making healthier, better choices about how you consume technology.”

As far as preventative measures for children, Young recommended slowly increasing technology use with age on an individualized basis. No child from infancy to 3 years old should have any screens in their life, Young said. From 3 to 6, though, she said the child can have very limited, very scrutinized, monitored screen use. Technology independence increases from there until the child becomes an adult with responsible technology practices.

In all, Young said the key is finding a balanced use between the functional use of technology -- like for work -- and recreational use.