In a global era of Information & Communications Technology (ICT) – Internet Addiction, otherwise known as computer addiction, online addiction, or Internet addiction disorder (IAD), covers a variety of impulse-control problems, including, addiction to social networking, chat rooms, texting, and messaging to the point where virtual, online friends become more important than real-life relationships with family and friends. The internet provides a constant, ever-changing source of information and entertainment, and can be accessed from most smart phone’s as well as tablets, laptops, and desktop computers. E-mail, blogs, social networks, instant messaging, and message boards allow for both public and anonymous communication about any topic. But how much is too much internet usage? Each person’s internet use is different. You might need to use the internet extensively for your work, for example, or you might rely heavily on social networking sites to keep in touch with faraway family and friends. Spending a lot of time online only becomes a problem when it absorbs too much of your time, causing you to neglect your relationships, your work, school, or other important things in your life. If you keep repeating compulsive internet behavior despite the negative consequences in your off-line life, then it’s time to strike a new balance. Many people turn to the internet in order to manage unpleasant feelings such as stress, loneliness, depression, and anxiety. When you have a bad day and are looking for a way to escape your problems or to quickly relieve stress or self-soothe, the internet can be an easily accessible outlet. Losing yourself online can temporarily make feelings such as loneliness, stress; anxiety, depression, and boredom evaporate into thin air. As much comfort as the internet can provide, though, it’s important to remember that there are healthier (and more effective) ways to keep difficult feelings in check. These may include exercising, meditating, and practicing simple relaxation techniques. For many people, an important aspect of overcoming internet and computer addiction is to find alternate ways to handle these difficult feelings.
Risk factors for Internet addiction: – You are at greater risk of internet addiction if:-
* You suffer from anxiety: – You may use the internet to distract yourself from your worries and fears. An anxiety disorder like obsessive-compulsive disorder may also contribute to excessive email checking and compulsive internet use.
* You are depressed: – The Internet can be an escape from feelings of depression, but too much time online can make things worse. Internet addiction further contributes to stress, isolation and loneliness.
* You’re an unhappy teenager: – You might be wondering where you fit in and the internet could feel more comfortable than real-life friends.
When used responsibly, the internet can be a great place to interact socially, meet new people, and even start romantic relationships. However, online relationships can often be more intense than those in real life. Our fantasies are given free reign and the idea of being with our online love can exceed all realistic expectations. Since few real-life relationships can compete with these wild, fantasy relationships, the internet addict will prefer to spend more and more time with their online friends. Another problem is that about 50% of people online lie about their age, weight, job, marital status, or gender. When online friends meet and the real-life person fails to match the online persona, it can create profound emotional disappointment.
Helping a child or teen with an Internet addiction: – It’s a fine line as a parent. If you severely limit a child or teen’s internet use, they might rebel and go to excess. But you should monitor computer and smart phone use, supervise online activity, and get your child help if he or she needs it. If your child or teen is showing signs of internet addiction, there are things that you can do to help: –
* Encourage other interests and social activities: – Get your child out from behind the computer screen. Expose kids to other hobbies and activities, such as team sports, scouts, and after school clubs.
* Monitor computer use and set clear limits: – Restrict the use of computers or tablets to a common area of the house where you can keep an eye on your child’s online activity, and limit time online. This will be most effective if you as a parent follow suit. If you can’t stay offline, chances are your child won’t either.
There are a number of steps you can take to get your internet use under control. While you can initiate many of these yourself, it’s important you get some outside support as well. It can be all too easy to slip back into old patterns of usage, especially if you use the internet heavily for work or other important activities: –
* Strengthen your support network: – The more relationships you have in real life, the less you will need the Internet for social interaction. Set aside dedicated time each week for friends and family. If you are shy, try finding common interest groups such as a sports team, education class, or book reading club. This allows you to interact with others and let relationships develop naturally.
* Therapy and counseling for internet addiction: – Therapy can give you a tremendous boost in controlling internet use. Cognitive-behavioral therapy provides step-by-step ways to stop compulsive internet behaviors and change your perceptions regarding internet, smart phone, and computer use. Therapy can also help you learn healthier ways of coping with uncomfortable emotions, such as stress, anxiety, or depression.
(The author is Asstt. Professor, GCET – Jammu)