Like it or not, the internet is here to stay. The internet and the “World Wide Web” have definitely changed the way the world works. The internet is used to correspond with friends, search for information useful to students and businesses, perform on-line banking, order books and other merchandise, track hurricanes, and even to track the flight of Santa’s sled from the North Pole. The internet is, without a doubt, informative, convenient, resourceful, and fun.
Not only have many of us come to depend on the use of the internet for getting things done as well as for enjoyment, but our language has changed as a result of the computer age. Words many baby boomers never heard growing up include internet, download, hard drive, website, modem, browser, router…and so many more. Not to mention the new initials we use so freely: (dot) COM, PC, WWW, ISP, DSL, USB, AOL, MSN, LOL, etc. No longer is a “web” something a spider spins, a “menu” something read at a restaurant, or a “mouse”…well, you get the picture.
With all of these changes and benefits made possible by the internet, it’s no wonder that there are also a few potentially bad things associated with its use. Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) is one such problem. IAD is a psycho-physiological disorder involving:
- Increased use of, and dependence on, the internet.
- Withdrawal symptoms (anxiety, distress, obsessions, etc.) associated with staying away from the internet.
- Mood disturbances (sleep deprivation, agitation, frustration, depression, etc.) associated with its use.
- Irresponsibility in the areas of home, occupation, education, and/or social relationships (not “cyber” relationships, but real ones).
- Unsuccessful attempts to control internet use.
Broken marriages, lost jobs and failing school grades are just a few of the problems being reported as related to IAD. The first step in dealing with a possible IAD is first recognizing it as a potential problem. Next, look at exactly how much time is spent on the internet or thinking about the internet while away from it. If underlying problems exist, consider finding help for them. Finally, devise a plan for gradually reducing the amount of time spent on the internet. Also consider whether or not the internet is serving as a distraction from other underlying problems in your life (relationship, financial, social, depression, etc.). In general, remember that a passion adds value to one’s life, while an addiction takes value away.
Another problem area involves internet safety, especially in the case of children and adolescents. Teenagers tend to get into more trouble on the internet than does any other age group. With the proliferation of child predators, chat-rooms catering to thousands of topic areas, pornography, and pop-ups and e-mails with illicit pictures and text a mere “click” away, the internet represents a considerable risk to our children.
So, is the internet a friend or foe? If used expeditiously, the internet is a fast, convenient, useful tool with many benefits. When, however, people become so enmeshed with their on-line activities that they neglect friends, family, studying, health, and other responsibilities, changes may be in order.
Several tips for parents regarding home internet use include:
- Have the computer with internet availability located in a “family oriented”, visible spot so that internet activities can be closely monitored. Don’t be fooled by believing your child is “just doing homework” on the computer. With DSL and cable internet, on-line availability is constant and often very difficult to monitor.
- The amount of time spent on the internet should be limited in much the same way as the watching of television and the use of the telephone.
- Avoid letting the computer and internet become a replacement for other, real-life experiences. The internet allows for the experience of social contact, with no real social presence.
- Teach your children about internet safety and its appropriate usage. Don’t give out personal information, including name, address, phone number, credit card numbers, etc. And don’t just start chatting with someone just because they send you an “instant message”. The internet allows for, and even encourages, contact with relative strangers.
- Make use of parental controls available through many internet service providers, but don’t depend on them to protect your child.
- Beware of letting your child become the house expert when it comes to the computer and internet. If that has happened, it’s probably a good sign that he/she has been spending too much time in those areas. Strive to stay up with the technology you have in your home.
Remember the old adage of “It’s better to be safe, than sorry”. In the case of our children, we certainly don’t want to be sorry. An ounce of prevention can be worth a pound of cure.