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Section 6
Screen Media in Children

Question 6 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we discussed underlying emotional causes that trigger a client’s problematic internet use.  These underlying causes included:  depression; low self-esteem; and anxiety.

In this section, we will examine challenges regarding pre-adolescents who become addicted to the internet.  These concepts include: susceptible clients; warning signs; and acceptance.

Pre-Adolescent Problematic Internet Use - 3 Challenges

♦ #1 Susceptible Clients
The first challenge is susceptible clients.  Although any type of child can become addicted to the internet, I have found that the most susceptible clients are introverted children.  Would you agree?  These children often find it difficult to make new friends and prefer to stay inside and away from other children, either because they feel that they would not fit in or else that they don’t belong. 

Charlie, age 11, was described by his parents as "quiet" and "obedient."  Rarely did Charlie ever talk back or refuse to complete a task his parents had asked him to do.  However, the day Charlie received a computer for his birthday, Jackie and Bill, his parents, began to notice changes in his behavior. 

Jackie stated, "He spent more and more time in his room and started talking back to us.  I’ve never heard a wise crack from him before, but when I ask  him to wash the dishes, he tells me to do it myself, and that he has important stuff to do on his computer.  What could be so important that he can’t spare five minutes and do a chore?" 

I explained to them, "Charlie is beginning to gain something from the computer he never had before:  confidence.  Lately, he’s been playing games with other boys online and because he has become skilled at them, he feels that this is the only way to gain independence.  Soon, Charlie will be hitting puberty where he will have to face new challenges."  Think of your Charlie.  Was he or she an introverted child before he or she discovered the internet?

♦ #2  Warning Signs
The second challenge is warning signs.  Because many parents do not recognize the warning signs in their children, they are surprised when their child overreacts to a punishment or command.  Julie, age 12, smashed in her father’s computer when he told her she could no longer go online. 

Luke, her father, stated, "It was so out of line, I couldn’t believe it!  I never thought she would do something this extreme just to get online!"  To help parents like Luke understand the progression of problematic internet use, I gave him a list of warning signs that could make him more alert to the development of his daughter’s problematic internet use.  Listen to the following warning signs.  Do they seem accurate to you?

  1. Excessive Fatigue.  Does your child struggle to get up in the morning more than he or she did before internet usage become common?  Do you see signs of drowsiness at dinner and on weekends? 
  2. Academic problems. 
  3. Declining interest in hobbies. 
  4. Withdrawal from friends. 
  5. Disobedience and acting out. 

I asked Luke if he had ever noticed any of these characteristics in Julie.  He stated, "Her grades had been slipping for a while, but I thought she was just having trouble sleeping at night.  I didn’t think she could be online that whole time!"  Think of your Luke.  Would he or she be aided in understanding problematic internet use by becoming more aware of warning signs?

Technique:  Parent-Child Confrontation Tips
To help parents confront their internet addicted child in the most effective way, I like to give Parent-Child Confrontation Tips that could be useful when intervening on a child’s internet usage.  As we saw before with Julie, children, pre-teens, and adolescents can react to restraint in overblown fashion.  Because of this, I explain to parents that there are certain considerations one must take when confronting children for the first time about internet usage.  I gave parents like Jackie, Bill, and Luke the following list of tips.  Read these tips and think of any others that might be useful to your clients.

  1. Present a united front.  Both parents should agree on one punishment and mode of confrontation.
  2. Show your caring.  It will help to begin your discussion by reminding your child that you love him or her and that you care about his or her happiness and well-being.
  3. Assign an internet time log.  Tell your child that you’d like to see an accounting of just how much time he or she spends online each day and which internet activities he or she engages in.
  4. Set reasonable rules.  Removing the computer completely will make you an enemy in your child’s eyes and he or she may exhibit symptoms of withdrawal.
  5. Make the computer visible.
  6. Encourage other activities.
  7. Support, don’t enable.  Try not to make excuses for the child’s behavior.  Acknowledge their feelings, but don’t give in when they throw a tantrum.
  8. Use outside resources when needed.

Think of your child clients who have problematic internet use.  Would this exercise be helpful in breaking them of the internet habit?

♦ #3 Acceptance
In addition to susceptible clients and warning signs, the third challenge is acceptance.  Pre-adolescents become addicted to the internet mainly because they feel more accepted by the anonymous bloggers and gamers than by their real friends and parents.  Mainly, because many of these teens are introverted, they feel that no one quite understands them.  However, under the guise of anonymity, they become more open about their feelings.  As such, those people they open up to become their main confidants Gradually, a network of friends develops and the teens shrink further and further into this group. 

Justin, age 12, was finding it difficult to make friends at school.  Starting middle school, he felt isolated in this new environment.  To add to this, his parents had started fighting regularly about money.  Feeling that there was no one he could turn to for help, Justin began gaming online.  He made friends quickly, other young teens who felt the same way about parents and high school. 

Justin stated, "It was like finding the friends I always wished I had.  I tell these guys everything and they’re real understanding."  His parents, Linda and Kasey, were concerned that their son no longer shared anything with them. 

I stated to them, "At this point in his life, Justin is experiencing a stage that all pre-adolescents must face where he feels alienated from you.  I suggest becoming more interested in his concerns such as:  how he’s adjusting at school and how he’s getting on with other peers.  Also, learn more about the internet itself and why Justin has become particularly addicted to it.  By becoming more understanding in this respect, you might be able to provide Justin with a larger confidence group." 

Think of your Justin.  Does he or she use the internet to gain acceptance?

In this section, we discussed concepts regarding children who become addicted to the internet.  These concepts included:  susceptible clients; warning signs; and acceptance.

In the next section, we will examine concepts related to partners of clients with problematic internet use.  These concepts include:  cyberaffairs; enabling; and asserting independence.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Acuff, S. F., Pilatti, A., Collins, M., Hides, L., Thingujam, N. S., Chai, W. J., Yap, W. M., Shuai, R., Hogarth, L., Bravo, A. J., & Murphy, J. G. (2021). Reinforcer pathology of internet-related behaviors among college students: Data from six countries. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology.

Domoff, S. E., Harrison, K., Gearhardt, A. N., Gentile, D. A., Lumeng, J. C., & Miller, A. L. (2019). Development and validation of the Problematic Media Use Measure: A parent report measure of screen media “addiction” in children. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 8(1), 2–11. 

Minges, K. E., Owen, N., Salmon, J., Chao, A., Dunstan, D. W., & Whittemore, R. (2015). Reducing youth screen time: Qualitative metasynthesis of findings on barriers and facilitators. Health Psychology, 34(4), 381–397. 

Sanders, W., Parent, J., Forehand, R., & Breslend, N. L. (2016). The roles of general and technology-related parenting in managing youth screen time. Journal of Family Psychology, 30(5), 641–646. 

Twenge, J. M., Martin, G. N., & Campbell, W. K. (2018). Decreases in psychological well-being among American adolescents after 2012 and links to screen time during the rise of smartphone technology. Emotion, 18(6), 765–780.

What are three concepts regarding children who become addicted to the internet? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 7
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