A study reported this year in the Journal of Adolescence found that heavy internet use among children and young adults correlates with a significantly higher risk for obesity, skipping meals, and sleep disorders. While the majority of young people regularly engage in cyber activities without a problem, many are becoming addicted and ruining their chances for a successful life. Among the folks who make their way to me and my cyber recovery groups, excessive video gaming and computer usage accompany poor academic performance more than 80 percent of the time.
Sharon, a single mother, suffered from fibromyalgia. She needed lots of sleep and regularly went to bed around ten p.m. Her thirteen-year-old son, Trevor, pretended to go to bed at the same time, but would wait fifteen or twenty minutes for his mother to fall asleep, then quietly creep downstairs, log on to the computer and play World of Warcraft until the wee hours of the morning—with his mother none the wiser. His obsession with this online, multiplayer, fantasy role-playing game started in late September, a point which marked the appearance of a variety of disturbing symptoms.
First of all, his grades began a steady downward slide. By January, he was failing all of his classes, including Gym. “He complains of being too tired to do anything,” the Phys. Ed. teacher said, “and nobody wants him on their team because he is pretty much useless.” Teachers in his academic subjects described a boy who frequently fell asleep in class and rarely had homework completed. Trevor had never been a stellar student, but had always put forth good effort. His mother and teachers struggled for answers.
Sandy, a mother of a 14-year-old girl with a very high IQ, also searched for answers upon learning that her daughter, Nicki, was failing four out of six classes. She had effortlessly managed all A’s for the entirety of her school career. Sandy wondered about possible depression, anxiety and even ADHD. But careful examination of the cell phone bill revealed that Nicki was sending hundreds of text messages during the school day and late at night, and obviously not paying attention to anything except contacting her friends. “I just couldn’t stop,” Nicki told me. “I knew I needed to stop, but something kept me going.” Nicki’s example demonstrates how cyber behaviors can become problems of impulse control, one of the features of a true addiction.
When you have a child, especially an adolescent, who appears sleep deprived, look first to his or her Internet, computer, and texting behaviors. If the cyber world seems to be creating a problem, it is important to set limits. These behaviors can quickly verge on obsession. The more timely and swift your response, the more successful you will be at heading off serious issues down the road. If your attempts to curtail your child’s cyber behaviors are proving unsuccessful, seek professional help immediately. Some deeper problems may underlie what you’re observing.
- Have you ever examined your cell phone bill to get an idea of your child’s texting behavior?
- Is your child getting enough sleep?
- Is the cyber world preventing your child from reaching his or her true potential?
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