The internet is a very relevant asset for research, news, entertainment and learning online. However, the world wide web also poses lots of risks for the teenage population, sometimes making them get addicted to the virtual world of the internet. Research has revealed that American teens spend a large part of their time, approximately 53 hours a week on an average, accessing internet for playing games, listening to music and watching live TV. Teenage kids are easily enticed by social networking sites, chat rooms, instant messaging and online role play games. Parents have to understand the potential dangers of internet addiction in order to maintain the right balance between the factual and virtual world.
Dangers of teen internet addiction
Internet addiction has become a topic of extensive medical research, of late. It is also a growing cause of concern for parents. Social networking sites like MySpace, Friendster and Facebook are a great way to stay in touch with friends from all over the world. But they also make youngsters prone to serious social, educational and health concerns. Constant use of chat applications and social networking sites results in a sedentary lifestyle along with a host of other problems like social isolation, mood changes, withdrawal, skipping meals, sleep disorders, obsessive thinking and depression. Suicides due to rejection by online friends, though not too common, cannot be ruled out totally.
Restricted physical and social growth
Concerned parents find it increasingly difficult to pull away kids from the computer. Absence of physical exercise leads to obesity and poor concentration in class. Children who may be complete outcasts otherwise, find acceptance in online chat rooms. So instead of risking rejection from peers at school and play, they seek solace in virtual rooms with online friends. Online games that are violent in nature, leads to destructive behavior in teens. Parents are becoming wary of the limitless hours their teens spend surfing the internet, withdrawing from family and friends. As such, internet addiction stunts social growth and affects both teens and their families.
Exposure to sensitive Content
There is no way to screen teenage kids from brazen graphics and vulgar advertisements. Teenage kids may come across grossly misrepresented facts and sensitive matters while surfing the web. Many a times, lack of parental supervision leads to teenagers getting involved in cyber-sex and circulation of pornography. Children doing research for school projects may come across websites pertaining to sex and drug abuse. Inquisitiveness leads to more research on taboo subjects which may eventually cause kids to abuse other children and commit juvenile crimes. Parents must restrict such misuse by installing parental internet controls and filtering software like Net Nanny.
Online sexual predators
Tales of teenage kids chatting with people who turn out to be online sexual predators may seem quite far fetched. But never dismiss the fact that it is a strong reality and can happen to your child, if you are not careful. Several offenders frequent chat rooms and befriend innocent kids, pretending to be someone they actually aren’t. Some old man may pose as an attractive girl and chat with an unsuspecting teenaged boy. It doesn’t end at that. Several chats later, the offenders fix up actual meetings with kids which turn out to be disastrous and horrifying for the naive children. Parents of teens and pre teens must, therefore, educate their kids on the potential dangers of online chat rooms. They must strictly monitor internet activity and check on their children every half an hour or so.
Ways to deal
Restraining kids from going online makes them rebellious and find other ways to go online, maybe in your absence or at a friend’s place. The best way to restrict internet access is by introducing new activities that do not involve the internet. Allow them to access the internet for a predefined time frame after which the kid must jump out of cyberspace. Parents need to start by setting an example themselves. If they limit their time on the internet and spend more time with children, the kids are sure to follow suit. Take them out for short vacations where there is no access to mobiles, laptops, iPods or any device with internet access. These basic steps go a long way in ensuring that teens are safe from internet addiction.