Over the next couple of weeks, kids across the country will head back to school. Addiction specialists say now is a good time for parents to address any concerning behavior in their child’s online habits. Internet addiction is not formally recognized yet in a key reference tool from the American Psychiatric Association.
But Dr. Sara Polley, Minnesota-based child & adolescent psychiatry specialist and director of addiction psychiatry at Ellie Mental Health, feels it will eventually be considered a disorder. For adolescents, being on social media too much can be harmful to brains that are still developing, she said. So, if they have been spending a lot of time online this summer, parents need to re-establish healthy habits.
“It’s really helpful to discuss with your family a media plan that applies to both the children in the family and the parents in the family, with potentially specific times set aside for use of social media or use of the internet not related to completing school assignments,” she explained.
She also recommended “tech-free zones” in places like the kitchen, in hopes of sparking more family conversations. If your teen becomes combative when asked to limit screen time or is becoming socially withdrawn and only prefers to be online, Polley said it is time to seek advice from a family doctor or mental health professional.
Polley added pushing above the “three-hours-a-day” mark of social media use can put adolescents at greater risk for depression and anxiety. It can also prevent them from getting a good night’s sleep, making the back-to-school transition problematic.
“And when I ask young people, ‘What are you doing when you’re up late at night?’ – nearly 100% of the time, they say that they’re on their computer, they’re using social media, they’re watching videos on YouTube.” she continued. “And that can make it really difficult for them to do what they need to do during their usual full-time job, which is going to school.”
Other experts worry the effects could result in disruptive behavior in the classroom. Middle school and high school students are often sent home with tablets and laptops for school use. They might come with settings limiting what can be done online, but Polley said it is still good for parents to set their own boundaries. Those could include only allowing the devices to be used in the living room, or making sure they are placed in backpacks when homework is completed.