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Monday, November 29, 2010

What Your Child's Facebook Addiction Says About Your Parenting Style

Here is a great article by Lisa Haisha, founder of Whispers From Children's Hearts Foundation that appeared in the Huffington Post.
Drugs, unprotected sex, drinking, bullying, smoking -- the list of parental worries often seems endless. And just when you think you have all the potential problem areas covered, your child or teen suddenly seems "addicted" to Facebook and other online social media sites. Is that even possible?
According to psychologist Kimberly S. Young, Ph.D. of the Center for Online Addiction, teen Internet addiction is becoming a growing problem. While there aren't any hard numbers to indicate just how many teenagers are becoming addicted to the Internet, Young estimates that five to 10 percent of Internet surfers suffer from some degree of Internet addiction.
Additionally, a recent Canadian study involving more than 5,000 children and teenagers revealed that 70 percent of parents know little or nothing about their kids' online activities. The study, which was conducted by the Ottawa, Ontario-based Media Awareness Network, also found that 70 percent of 13- and 14-year-olds admit to visiting private and adults-only chatrooms. What's more, most of these teenagers freely admitted that they were breaking family rules by visiting these chatrooms.
Another study from York University in Canada claims that Facebook users are "insecure, narcissistic, and have low self-esteem." So, does your child's Facebook habit mean you're a bad parent? No. But it does mean you have to establish some new rules and household routines. Here are a few things to consider:
1) Facebook Shouldn't Become a Surrogate For Real Friendships and Activities
Everyone needs face time with other people, not just screen time. Physical presence with others promotes deeper connection, and all people need to be touched, hugged and attended to. Therefore, just as you likely have rules about TV time and phone time, you also need a rule about Internet time.
Of course, kids today need to be online for school projects and learning opportunities. The problem is when parents automatically assume their children are online for educational purposes and don't question the child's real Internet use. Realize that it's easy to look busy at the computer, as if serious learning were taking place (just think how often you "look busy" at work when the boss walks by). That's why parents need to take a sincere interest in what their kids are doing online, beyond installing Internet monitoring software.
This is about talking with your kids, learning about their school projects and friends, and asking them thought-provoking questions about their day. For example, rather than simply asking, "How was your day at school?" (which typically elicits the response, "Fine"), ask something like, "What was your favorite part of today?" or, "What three new things did you learn today?" Such questions prompt more than a one-word answer and help you build connection with your child.
2) Help Your Child Uncover His or Her Passion
Everyone needs a purpose in life; your children are no different. If you want your children to limit their Facebook time (or time on other social media sites), you have to help them find an alternative. Simply saying, "Don't go on Facebook so much," won't prompt any change in behavior, as your children won't have any other activity to do that engages them. Therefore, as you start talking with your child more, probe to uncover his or her likes and dislikes.
There are so many things kids can get involved in these days, from sports to dance to groups of specialized interests. There are also numerous volunteer options, such as with a local humane society, senior center, library, museum or non-profit organization. Essentially, no matter what interests your child, chances are there's some way for your child to put that interest to good use.
When kids have a passion for something, Facebook and other social media sites will no longer seem important. Rather, they'll have a bigger desire to fuel their passion. And if their passion is something you or another sibling or friend can get involved in, too, that will make the transition to the new activity even easier.
3) Teach Your Children How to Use Facebook
One of the challenges with social networking sites is that they subtly teach children to commoditize relationships. In a child's mind, if someone has 4,000 Facebook friends and the child only has 400, it means that the other person is more valued. That's the kind of lazy logic that creeps into many kids' thinking.
To combat this type of thinking, ask your kids, "How many of your Facebook friends actually contribute to your life? How do these friends add value to you? What do you know about these people other than what they post on Facebook?"
Additionally, teach your children how to use Facebook responsibly. For kids, Facebook is a way to talk about homework and common interests with peers, and a way to keep extended family updated about daily happenings. For example, if your child gets the lead in the school play, makes the varsity team or gets all As, that's information worth posting on Facebook, as it eliminates the need to call and tell everyone the good news.
However, if your child is friending people they don't know, that's when Facebook becomes dangerous and opens the door to cyber-bullying, bad influences, and unforeseen dangers. Help your child realize that for their purposes, Facebook is not for meeting strangers around the world. They need to keep their network to known friends and family only.
4) Take a Proactive Approach to Facebook
Remember that Facebook can become catnip for attention-starved kids. Sadly, there are some kids who are basically raising themselves. They have no structure, no discipline and no one to give them the healthy attention every child craves and needs. Facebook can feed into this hunger for attention by incentivizing kids to "act out," post provocative pictures of themselves, or post shocking statements that can boomerang back on them and hurt their future.
Therefore, even if you're not on Facebook or think it's nothing more than a dumb waste of time, you can't ignore Facebook or social media any longer. Your kids are using it whether you approve or not. That's why you have to educate yourself about social media and be proactive in terms of how your children use Facebook. By getting involved in all aspects of your child's life, including their cyber life, you can teach them how to use Facebook responsibly and instill in them a true passion worth pursuing.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Family Dynamics and Adolescent Online Gaming Addicts

As part of the recovery process, families are significantly impacted by online gaming addiction.  Not only are parents or spouses hurt by a loved one’s addiction but an addiction to online gaming can be caused by a breakdown in the family system, especially among children and teenagers.  Adolescent gaming addiction is a major issue in our society as teen online abuse is growing at an alarmingly high rate. Adolescence alone, regardless of the involvement in the Internet, is an extremely challenging and complex transition for young individuals. Exploring and attempting to discover one's identity as an adolescent can be an overwhelming stage in one's life. In the event that an adolescent is using online games to develop his or her identity, the more likely it will disrupt the family. A young, impressible son or daughter is now exposed to adults with different customs, values, and belief systems.  A mother or father can become worried about personality changes taking place the more a son or daughter plays the game.
Family dynamics can play a role in the development of online gaming addiction.  Children who are going through life transitions such as their parents recently divorced, they recently moved, or they are adjusting to a new step-parent are at greater risk for developing an addiction to gaming. In particular, children of substance abusing parents are shown to have an increased risk of using gaming as means to cope with problems such as school problems, health problems, delinquency, sexual problems, mental issues, and developmental issues. To complicate matters, it is much harder for a teen to recover from gaming addiction, especially when the computer is often a necessary component of their home and school environments. This chapter explores the impact to the family caused and created by online gaming addiction. Specifically, readers learn the family dynamics associated with the addiction and ways to rebuild a broken family system. 

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Younger Children More Vulnerable to Video Game Addiction

A question that I often get is how young should my children start to use the Internet. Or, how young should my child be before he or she should start gaming online? Mainly, this is due to the violent content contained in many games that are available. Parents are increasingly worried about how these games impact childhood development. One consistent factor in developing compulsive or addictive habits related to gaming addiction among children is that the younger they start online makes them more at risk to develop an addiction to online gaming. For example, a recent client of mine who was already 21 started gaming by age 12. In his younger days, Dan was drawn to Gameboy, Sony Play Station, and Nintendo with his friends, and gradually progressed to X-Box. He was able to manage how much time he spent gaming until he went on X-Box live. “It was like a whole other world opened up to me,” he explains. Suddenly, he was able to interact with fellow players inside of sit beside friends while playing the game.

Gaming had already become a large part of his personal identity, and despite having Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) he was able to sit in front of the computer for hours. His parents became concerned when his gaming habit turned into an obsession. “He went into a trance-like state every time he went online but unlike other hobbies, he never lost interest in this,” his mother explained. “When he quit the track team, which he loved, we knew he had a serious problem and the game took over his entire life.”

What tends to happen is that parents initially see gaming as a healthy recreational activity among children but then it becomes more apparent that there is a problem as the child gets older. Say when the child goes to college and fails freshman year due to gaming. Say the child is put on probation or academically is expelled from college and loses a scholarship only to move back in with the parents. This is usually when parents see the ramifications of gaming in full bloom. They see how a son or daughter has let other important areas of life go by the wayside just to spend time gaming. One mother said that her son had three computer screens in front of me going from one game to the next. He was 22, kicked out of college, and living in her basement. She had no idea where to turn as he had no other goal except to play the games.

In general, there is not an ideal age to introduce online gaming to children. It is more important that clear time limits are used from the very beginning. This is important! Otherwise, without time limits, a child can play games for hours. With time limits, children then should be encouraged to engage in other offline activities - social clubs at school, learning to play a sport, learning to play an instrument, spending time with family, whatever the activities, these should be social and engaging for the child. The fear is if children start gaming so young, they will not to engage in social activities at school or at home, and the result is that gaming will always be their only focus.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Poor Social Relationships Linked to Video/Online Gaming Addiction

A large part of gaming is about making social relationships. Gamers often make friends with other gamers and it is these friends who may even first introduce the gamer to the game. Ultimately, online gaming is a social activity. Most online games include copious amounts of chats, allowing players to interact with each other in the guise of the characters they represent. The social aspect is a primary factor in many game addictions. Many people are lonely, have never felt like they belonged. People get a sense of belonging in the game. In some cases, it provides the only friends they interact with. Gamers can become hooked on this social fantasy world. Why chat with player in some low-tech Internet browser when you can go destroy the undead, complete epic quests, and chat in a large graphical extravaganza? Gamers can join guilds that provide a great sense of community and accomplishment when they take out those big monsters. Gamers are trying to make their mark on the world in these games and many like this aspect. Being the person with the biggest sword or highest level is what makes them keep playing.

Gaming provides individuals with an outlet for their imaginations. Especially among adolescents and children who are academically bright and who feel under-stimulated in school, they turn to the game as a place for adventure and intellectual stimulation. Such games also lure players with complex systems of goals and achievements. They drawn into the virtual fantasy world of the game and they internalize the game as a real place and others characters are seen as real people and not fictional characters. Especially in goal-oriented games such as “EverQuest” players engage in activities to develop their characters from one level to the next and compete to find valuable in-game elements such as armor and weapons. Players can find themselves wrapped up in the game for hours as they struggle to gain one more skill or weapon. Children who have problems in school due to low stimulation then may turn to video games or online games as a way to stimulate themselves. It has become a growing trend that children with high IQs, SAT scores, grade performance in general have been most vulnerable to gaming addiction. It might be something that teachers need to screen for regarding asking more questions of children about computer use in general and gaming use specifically. If we can find ways to prevent the problem through awareness and early detection, we can better stop the problem.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Low Self Esteem Associated with Online Gaming Addiction

I receive so many questions about online gaming addiction. I have a new book available on Kindle 'When Gaming Becomes an Obsession: Help for Parents and their Children to Treat Online Gaming Addiction" and thought that I would take excepts from the booklet. It seems a good way to handle some of the questions I get. The next few posts will focus on risk factors associated with gaming addiction.

"Individuals who suffer from low self-esteem are at greatest risk for developing an addiction to online gaming. In one case, I worked with a 20-year-old from Rochester, NY who was kicked out of RIT. When I asked him about his gaming, he said that his life seemed to be important when he was playing the game. He was important in the game, but in real life, he was someone who couldn’t make friends and wasn’t fulfilling his parent’s expectations. He had failed school, not so much because he couldn’t pass the tests, but he couldn’t make it to class. He was someone who didn’t have a direction in his life, and because of this, didn’t feel good about his life. But in the game, all that changed. He was good at the game, had a network of fellow gamers who he felt were his closest (and only) friends, and he felt validated and confident when playing the game."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Signs of Online Gaming Addiction

i have received a few reporter questions this week asking to define the signs of online gaming addiction. Online gaming has exploded, there is to doubt of that. What form does the addiction take? Is it just a matter of time? Not really, although I have treated gamers who spend every waking hour gaming. For today's post, I thought I would share what has become accepted as a main criteria to watch for when assessing online gaming addiction. Please answer "yes" or "no" to the following:

  1. Do you need to play online games with increasing amounts of time in order to achieve the desired excitement?
  2. Are you preoccupied with gaming (thinking about it when offline, anticipating your next online session)?
  3. Have you lied to friends and family members to conceal extent of your online gaming?
  4. Do you feel restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop online gaming?
  5. Have you made repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop online gaming?
  6. Do you use gaming as a way of escaping from problems or relieve feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, or depression?
  7. Have you jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, or even risked your marriage because of your online gaming habit?
  8. Have you jeopardized a job, educational, or career opportunity because of your online gaming habit?

If you (or a loved one) has answered "yes" to three or more of the above questions, you may be addicted to online gaming. These are common warning signs that you have lost control, lied, or possibly risked a relationship to support your gaming behavior. It is not easy to break the habit - too much is involved in gaming (the multi-user games especially are hard to break). Help and further resources are available online at netaddiction.com - or if you wish to set up an individual session, please feel free to call our center.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Can online gaming be positive social behavior?

Can online gaming build social values and behavior?

The game, Urgent Evoke, is funded by the World Bank to the tune of $500,000 and launched today. It will continue for 10 weeks and features weekly challenges.

A reporter had asked me what I felt about the utility of using online gaming to promote social behaviors. I thought this was an interesting question. I think games are a great way to promote social benefits. It certain is a better way that some others and it helps gamers learn about social values. It seems like a great partnership. We live in a society that has declined in the volume of community service it provides, so games would be one way to help teach young people service values. It should not be contained to Africa but other geographic areas would benefit as well. Already, 400 people out of 3,500 is a great start, and the game just launched so only time will tell how many more sign up and how effective long range service mindedness can be encouraged through gaming. Online gaming is a great way to reach people that otherwise brick-and-mortar avenues may not. In my clinical practice, gaming behavior transfers to real life, this is part of treatment. A 16-year old might be a great leader of a popular guild online but in real life suffers from low self esteem. Treatment encourages the transfer of these skills to benefit others by using this young person's leadership skills. So, yes, skill sets learned through gaming can transfer to real life, and online learning can also transfer to real life behavior.

This all comes at a time when online gaming has become increasingly popular - yes, addictive to some, but a popular way to reach out to people. It seems for both young adults and adults.

It would be interesting to hear from online gamers on your thoughts on the effectiveness of this?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Some interesting statistics on Internet addiction

While the Internet has opened the world to many in ways never imagined, new studies continue to replicate prevsiou studies that I have conducted from the 90s and reinforce that Internet overuse can become harmful.

Examples of Internet addiction include online gambling, gaming and shopping, obsession with pornography, blogs, social media and chat rooms.

The hardest part is determining how much time is too much. When you’re looking at someone who spends a great deal of time on the Internet, you’re trying to determine if they’re spending an exorbitant amount of time doing that as opposed to everyday living. If it’s causing you a problem in your life, then it’s a problem.

Internet addiction is similar to substance addictions in that many of the same symptoms are present.

If you’re more interested in spending time with the thing you’re addicted to than you are with your family and friends, then that’s a symptom. If you’re preoccupied with the thing you’re addicted to, then that’s a symptom. Those things are the same for any addiction.

Internet addiction can lead to more serious symptoms, including health problems from a lack of sun or exercise, increased senses of loneliness and depression and the loss of social skills. If left untreated, Internet addictions can increase the likelihood that the individual will get divorced or fired, or have financial, academic or sexual problems.

Internet addictions can be very serious.

Whereas treatment for substance addictions focuses on abstinence, Internet addiction treatment focuses on abstaining from the specific problem, not necessarily from the Internet itself. The reason for that is that it’s not realistic in today’s job market for an individual to never use the Internet.

A person who is an alcoholic should never drink again. The goal (of Internet addiction treatment) is to never engage in the problematic aspect of the Internet. If your addiction is centered around social networking, then our goal for you would be to stop using Facebook or the other social networking options available.

Certain groups of people are more at risk.

Teens are more at risk because, let’s face it, they have been raised in technology their entire life.

Other at-risk groups include people who are immobile or homebound, people who lack social support, people who suffer from depression or anxiety disorders, and people who have addictive personalities.

One of the later large-scale studies conducted on Internet addictions was completed in 2006 by Stanford University’s School of Medicine, which interviewed 2,513 adults in a nationwide telephone survey.

Researchers said 68.9 percent of respondents were regular Internet users, and one in eight displayed at least one possible sign of problematic Internet use.

The team, moreover, said:

That 13.7 percent found it hard to stay away from the Internet for several days at a time.

That 12.3 percent had seen a need to cut back on Internet use at some point.

That 8.7 percent attempted to conceal nonessential Internet use from family, friends and employers.

That 5.9 percent thought their relationships suffered as a result of excessive Internet use.

Elias Aboujaoude, the study’s lead author, said he was particularly concerned by the number of people who hid their nonessential Internet use.

“Obviously something is wrong when people go out of their way to hide their Internet activity,” he said in a news release. “We often focus on how wonderful the Internet is — how simple and efficient it can make things. But we need to consider the fact that it creates real problems for a subset of people.”

Internet usage in general has clearly increased over the past decade, with 68.7 percent of homes boasting Internet access in 2009, compared with 41.5 percent in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Monday, October 18, 2010

What are the signs of Internet addiction?

Even though I have been studying Internet addiction since the 90s, I keep getting the same question among reporters and clients alike, what are the signs of Internet addiction? Is it a matter of time? Yes, to some extent. If someone spends excessive time online for recreational purposes and it cuts into other needed tasks or duties for work, school, or within relationships, the use of the Internet could be considered compulsive. To fully define signs of Internet addiction, a set of diagnostic criteria were developed (in 1998 published in my first article on Internet addiction, this is also referred to as the Internet Addiction Diagnostic Questionnaire, an eighth-item screening instrument) to help see if you match the profile.

Ask yourself the following questions:

1. Do you feel preoccupied with the Internet (think about previous online activity or anticipate next online session)?
2. Do you feel the need to use the Internet with increasing amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction?
3. Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop Internet use?
4. Do you feel restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use?
5. Do you stay online longer than originally intended?
6. Have you jeopardized or risked the loss of significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of the Internet?
7. Have you lied to family members, therapist, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with the Internet?
8. Do you use the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression)?

If you answer 5 or more, you most likely fit the DSM-criteria for Internet addiction.