Controlled By The Internet

Yesterday, I wrote about the scientific understanding behind teenagers’ propensity for impulsiveness, their higher risks for addiction and inappropriate and higher risk behaviour. One of the aspects that was touched upon was addiction to online and internet activity, whether to gaming, social networking or pornography – all things that can potentially have devastating effects on a young life.

Frequently, over the last 5-6 years I’ve had conversations with parents who were trying to grapple with these issues. One question sometimes asked is how to tell whether there child just has a strong habit or an addiction. Also, people can understand at a fundamental level the way that a person can become addicted to a substance like nicotine or alcohol, but find it harder to see internet use as a form of addiction. However, all the evidence is that it ‘hits’ the same pleasure centres in the brain and this is why it can have such a powerful impact.

So, I was keen to share this research from University of North Carolina;

Quartz – New Study Says Half of US Students Could Be Internet Addicts

The findings are really quite stark and startling. This is something that has crept up on society at such pace and in such a startling manner that few are fully and adequately engaging with all the implications. Rational, educated, intelligent parents have had this happen in their homes, right under their noses – the same people who would have launched in to massive action if they saw even a hint of their child getting involved with tobacco or alcohol. If the numbers are really even close to what this research suggests, then the reality is that enormous numbers of students and their parents are really still in denial.

The article also contains some cautionary warnings for adults about the examples that have been/ are being set. However, there are times when I think this needs to be set in context. A parent who reads ebooks, literature or material for their professional or personal development on a device rather than in a book, or listens to professional podcasts, can hardly be compared with the student who spends 6+ hours a day exchanging meaningless social networking messages or playing a computer game. When the parents read books in the past, were the children all following their example then?

These are very real issues that have massive implications for society. And, it’s not going to get better. This year, the market will be hit by large volumes of virtual reality material – hardware and software. The fact that this will be potentially even more immersive, stimulating and exciting will bring more danger to more young people.

Families need to be engaging in open discussion on these issues and educators also need to be engaging young people in sensible, open conversaion so that they can be helped to make better choices for themselves.

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