Kids’ ages 8 to 18 now spend an average of 10 hours and 45 minutes a day, seven days a week with media. That translates into 75 hours and 15 minutes per week, nearly twice as many hours as their parents put into full-time jobs according to research published by the Kaiser Family Foundation in January 10101 .
Within these averages there are significant differences and knowing where your child or teen falls within these ranges is the first step in understanding whether or not you want to adjust the amount of time they spend online, or if you suspect a larger problem is brewing. A full 21% of youth are defined as heavy media users who spend more than 16 hours with media a day. Another 63% are defined as moderate users who use media 3-16 hours a day. Youth who fall into the light user category are those who consume less than 3 hours of media a day.
For youth on the high end of the scale, spending this much time with media - online and offline - robs them of real world experiences and may result in lower grades, increase their risk for depression, cut into the time needed for sleep, and more.
Of those media hours, the internet now takes up about half of the time. For most kids and teens their online use is relatively well managed as they balance media use with school, sports, friends, and other commitments. Yet for a small percentage of youth the need to be online can become compulsive, uncontrolled, or pathological, this type of maladaptive behavior is sometimes called internet ’addiction’.
Whether compulsive internet use fits into the formal category of addiction or not, there is clear evidence demonstrating that some users develop a compulsive need to be online that interferes with their daily activities, their relationships, and their health2 . Though researchers are far from fully understanding the cause and effect relationship between internet use and maladaptive behavior (and to the extent these relationships may run both ways), evidence suggest that the risk to youth for developing these issues is much greater than it is for older users3 .
As parents and caregivers, understanding how to differentiate between ’normal’ internet use and compulsive use is critically important for knowing when to seek help for concerning behavior. Internet usage naturally ebbs and flows to accommodate other activities and interests among healthy internet users.
Usage may spike because your child has a big homework project to finish, they are setting up a social network, just started playing a new game, has a new boy-/girlfriend to chat with, is missing a friend, or for some other short-term interest. While potentially time consuming and engrossing, this is very different behavior than that of youth who spend virtually all of their waking hours, week in and week out, behind an internet connected screen, ignoring relationships, homework, and the world.
If you are unsure whether your child or teen falls into the latter category, compare their behavior to the list of warning signs below. As you review the list, keep in mind that if a child or teen exhibits a one (or a few) of these behaviors, it may or may not be cause for concern. For example, plenty of teens prefer to spend time online rather than with family, we all lose track of time online on occasion, and if you’re waiting for a particular message, you may check your messages very frequently. On the other hand, if you read through this list and most of these signs are visible in your child, it may be time to consider the best course of action.
1Generation M2 Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds http://www.kff.org/entmedia/upload/8010.pdf
3Various research studies have reported internet addiction rates for youth ranging between 1.4% to 17.9% in both Western and Eastern societies.
4Compiled from: http://www.safetyweb.com/internet-addiction#References, http://www.video-game-addiction.org/symptoms-computer-addiction-teens.html, and . Kimberly Young, Director of the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery, identified the following potential warning signs for children with pathological Internet