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Online life: how to help your child to cope with online addiction

21.05.2019 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin

The Internet itself is not good or bad — it is in many ways a useful and necessary part of the modern world. Most adults can keep the situation under control by visiting online pages only as needed. However, curious child, getting into the virtual space, tries to “squeeze” out of it as much as possible — movies, social networks, music, games and chatrooms. Often at the expense of real life. What are the signs of Internet addiction in a child? How to cope with the problem? We’ll talk about that in today’s article.


What is Internet Addiction: Fascination or Obsession?

how to get rid of internet addiction

“My son is only 9, but he already skillfully plays many computer games, and understands modern gadgets. It’s started to scare me lately. Teachers complain about my son’s bad behavior — he serfs the Internet from smartphone or plays games even in class. His grades started to slip because he does not have time to learn the lessons properly because of the endless games. When everyone is already going to bed, my son could quietly turn on the computer and browse the Web or run the shooter. I do not know how to properly address his excessive love for gadgets. I don’t want to spoil our relationship and provoke aggression from the child.”

– Anna, mother of 9-year-old Yuriy

Internet addiction is an obsessive desire to constantly be online and a painful inability to timely “switch” to real life. [1]

Many children aged 5-12 often get caught up in interesting hobbies. it doesn’t matter if it’s a collection of stickers, weaving bead bracelets, or online games. If a child gets unlimited access to gadgets and a computer connected to the Internet, he/she quickly gets “sucked in.” One click and the child is already on the world wide web, where he can find a lot of entertainment, get away from problems, and become who he wants. If timely prevention of Internet addiction is not ensured, the teenager becomes so fond of virtual space that he replaces reality with it, spending up to 18 hours a day on the net.

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The status of Internet addiction in adults and children as a mental disorder has not yet been established by official medicine. According to many experts, the mechanism of its formation is in many ways similar to alcohol, nicotine and drug addictions. Another similar example is Internet gaming addiction. Recent studies show that the amount of dopamine (pleasure hormone) produced during video gaming is comparable to that of certain drugs. [2]

What is the danger of Internet addiction in children?

  • loss of interest in what is happening around them;
  • disruption of communication skills;
  • disruption of sleep and eating habits;
  • the decline in school performance;
  • increased excitability and anxiety;
  • memory impairment;
  • health problems (obesity, eye and spine diseases, head pain).

Types of Internet addiction in children

Internet addiction among children

According to psychiatrist K. Young, there are 5 types of Internet addiction.  Children under 15 are usually exposed to only three of them. [3]

How do specific types of addictions manifest?

Type of Internet-addictionFeatures of a child’s behavior
Gaming addictionThe child spends all his free time playing online games. He/she eats little and pays little attention to the studies. The child does not notice how time flies away, and can not break away from the game for a minute. He can spend all his pocket money to buy games and “upgrades” of heroes
Dependence on social networksThe child practically ceases to communicate with his peers. His/her friends are “faceless” interlocutors in chat rooms and forums. Gradually, it becomes difficult for a child to meet new people, he loses skills of real-life communication 
Obsessive web surfingThe child constantly navigates the net on different sites. There is no specific purpose — its only banal clicks on links and a lot of unnecessary information. If a child has no access to a computer, he has a gadget in his hands all the time.

Reasons for Internet addiction: Why a Child Chooses Virtual World?

Though innocuous at first sight, the fascination with online games and social networks can develop into a harmful habit. So, what are the reasons for children’s addiction to computer and the Internet?

1. Child’s shyness and insecurities  

This is one of the most common causes of Internet addiction in adolescence. It is difficult for shy children to communicate with their peers and to find new friends. On the Internet, they can forget about their insecurities, hiding behind a beautiful avatar and a cheeky nickname. But while virtual communication becomes a habit, later it will be even more difficult for a child to communicate with the people around him.

2. Intra-family conflicts

A child often hides in the virtual world to avoid family scandals. For him it is a great way to get away from complains and reproaches of parents and avoid listening to their quarrels.

3. Stresses

What difficult situations in life may motivate a child to immerse himself in the virtual world? Bullying in school, loss of a loved one, unhappy love, serious illness and hyper-care of parents. In a state of stress, an under-formed personality instinctively looks for a space in which it will feel comfortable. The world of social networks or online games can become such a platform.

4. Excess free time

How to spend free time? Of course, to connect the gadget to the Internet. When the child has few friends and no serious hobbies, he/she combats boredom in the simplest way possible — by playing games, watching movies and online-chatting.

5. Parental irresponsibility

It happens that parents themselves offer the gadget to a child so that he/she does not interfere with their work. Very often children under 7 are thus distracted, because it is during the preschool period that children ask a lot of questions, learn to interact with the world around them and require a lot of attention. All this can lead to quarrels, the annoyance of parents and manipulation on the part of children.

“During this period of life parent’s interaction with the child is very important, but many parents prefer not to waste their time and energy, not to explain to the child what is good and what is bad, but simply to give him/her a gadget, turn on the game and step away from the stressful situation. This is how the child’s addiction starts to develop.”

  – Elena Krasnova, Psychologist at the Institute of Distance Psychology in Russia

Signs of Internet addiction in children

The fact that modern children spend a certain amount of time a day “online” is considered a normal situation. It would be wrong to diagnose Internet addiction in everyone who has available gadget with access to the Internet. However, it is important to understand what signals will help you to timely notice the problem.

Several questionnaires are used for psychological diagnosis of computer addiction. They include a short test for Internet addiction from psychiatrist K. Young, which she developed in 1996. It can also be used for self-diagnosis of Internet addiction in a child. The test includes 8 statements to be answered in the affirmative or negative: [3]

  1. All the child’s thoughts are only about the Internet.
  2. The time child spends surfing the Internet is constantly increasing.
  3. There have already been unsuccessful attempts to control, restrict or stop the child’s from using the Internet.
  4. The child, despite the rules set by himself or his parents, always spends more time on Internet entertainment than planned.
  5. He becomes tired, aggressive or bad-tempered when trying to limit or stop the use of the Internet.
  6. The child lies about how much time he/she spends online.
  7. The Internet is causing poor school performance.
  8. The child uses the Internet to get rid of a bad mood or hide from problems.

If you have answered in the affirmative to 5 or more statements, we recommend thinking about solving the problem.

In general, symptoms of a psychological dependence on the computer in adolescents are similar to those of any other type of addiction. It is hard not to notice when fascination becomes a bad habit. The following are the signs of addiction:
  • Compulsiveness is an uncontrollable behavior aimed at getting online faster. For example, a child comes home from school and immediately sits down at the computer instead of having some rest or getting lunch.
  • Denial. Addicted child’s critical attitude to the negative consequences of his addiction is lowered.
  • Abstinence (withdrawal syndrome) when the Internet is prohibited. The child becomes bad-tempered and aggressive in response to the control and parents’ comments. [4]

Prevention of Internet addiction in adolescents

prevention of Internet addiction among adolescents

“My son is 15. It’s been a year since he got involved in online gaming. I can’t tear him away from the computer at all! He plays until I start yelling at him. During the school holidays he does not move from the screen from early morning until late evening. He does not go on walks or socialize with anyone. It’s only his favorite game that matters. It’s impossible to get my son to do anything around the house. He has one answer: “later.” Naturally, he does not fulfill his promises. I reprimanded him many times and even snatched all the computer wires from the socket once. I was frightened by my son’s reaction — he turned pale, lips and hands were shaking and he was screaming like crazy. I don’t know how to help him get rid of Internet addiction. I’m afraid for my son; because of games he became twitchy, talks to himself and almost stopped sleeping.”

— Ekaterina, mother of 15-year-old Sasha

From the age of 10-12 starts an awkward age. Everything escalates — insecurities, fears, and doubts. Affected by heightened emotions, children are especially vulnerable to Internet addiction, since virtual space gives them the illusion of importance and is a way to get away from numerous problems. It is in early adolescence that children discover social media and online games for the first time.

Like with other non-chemical types of addiction, it is easier not to allow it to occur at all, rather than treating the addiction to computers and gadgets in the future. Therefore, parents should first of all pay attention to the prevention of Internet addiction. According to psychologists, the following actions on the part of parents should be effective:

  • When a child is just getting acquainted with the Internet, it is important to explain to him/her the basic rules of online life and show what useful opportunities the world wide web offers.
  • It will not be superfluous to establish a clear time frame for using the Internet. It’s important to do it without threats and strict prohibitions — they are sure to cause rebellion in a teenager.
  • Parents should not overlook the activity of the child in social networks. However, it is important not to cross personal boundaries of the teenager, who is likely to perceive mother and father’s care as “excessive” concern.
  • Child’s life should be eventful, not limited to just the area of the room with a computer. Child should have hobbies, regularly visit clubs and sections.
  • Parents should not set a bad example. Seeing that mom and dad spend a lot of time online, child thinks that this is normal.
  • Trusting relationships in the family will help establish communication with the teenager. Then the child will not have to “hide” from problems on the Internet. [5]

Internet addiction in adolescence: advice to parents

Gaming addiction in teenagers, associated with the computer or the Internet, does not always pass with age. Initially, the “escape from reality” alone is not dangerous. A serious problem appears when a teenager begins to experience strong emotions in his/her “refuge”. They include victories in online games, and romantic relationships online, and the reputation with anonymous chat partners. Such positive bonuses of virtual life become for him the same as drugs for an addict.

Banning the use of computers and gadgets, removal of child’s accounts from social networks are the most widespread methods used by parents who are concerned about the development of the teenager’s Internet addiction. This is a radical step that usually only makes the situation worse. A child deprived of online games and communication with virtual friends will respond with open or hidden aggression, which can be a serious test for relationships in the family.

We will help you to get rid of Internet addiction

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Computer addiction in teenagers does not appear out of nowhere. As a rule, it is only a consequence of psychological, emotional or interpersonal problems. A combination of negative factors is also possible. In adolescents, it is better to treat internet addiction by identifying specific causes thereof.

It is important to help the teenager because he will not get out of the virtual world on his own. The best way out is a trusting conversation with the child and established rules for the use of gadgets and the Internet. For a teenager in order to get out of the influence of Internet addiction and return to real life, he needs an alternative that would compensate for personal losses. Sports and interesting hobbies will help.

When neither trusting conversations nor prohibitions “work” in the fight against Internet addiction, it is important to timely consult a psychologist. Most often, it’s not only the child needs help, but also his parents.

One effective way to get rid of teenage Internet addiction is to change the pathological behavior pattern. The patented 7Spsy behavior modification technique is geared towards this. The program is based on the scientific theories of I.P. Pavlov, B.F. Skinner, A.A.Ukhtomsky, etc. The Internet addiction is treated by replacing negative mindset with a positive one.

The child will understand that real communication is much more interesting and productive than virtual life. The behavior modification course will help them painlessly get out of the Internet world, establish relationships with parents and peers, and get rid of the fear of real communication with people. They will have time and inner resources for study and personal development.

The program is designed for 2-6 weeks. The classes take place remotely, which saves time of the child and parents. Support and help of psychologists, provided by phone, e-mail, and online chats, will help to get rid of the addiction in a comfortable mode. If the child is shy, they won’t have to discuss their problems with a psychologist, as with standard consulting. You don’t need to inform teachers about the course, tell relatives and friends about the program — the participation in the program is completely confidential.

One day your child will thank you for helping to deal with a problem that could affect his/her future.


  1. «Internet-zavisimost: psihologicheskaya priroda i dinamika razvitiya», 2009 g., A. E. Vojskunskij
  2. «Psihologiya i Internet», 2010 g., A. E. Vojskunskij
  3. Caught in the Net: How to Recognize the Signs of Internet Addiction–and a Winning Strategy for Recovery, 2009 г., Kimberly S. Young
  4. «Problemy igrovoj kompyuternoj internet-zavisimosti u podrostkov» (zhurnal «Molodoj uchenyj», 2013. — №5),  A. F. Fedorov
  5. «Psihologicheskaya profilaktika internet-zavisimosti u studentov» (dissertaciya), 2010 g., M. I. Drepa