Teenage Internet Addiction


internet-addictionBy Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, Matzav.com 

Is Internet addiction the main cause of today’s at-risk crisis? It’s a topic most people shy away from, but it’s one that our society needs to begin to address. Everyday more and more teens are getting hooked on the Internet and the effect of surfing may be taking its toll on our youth.

There’s no question that Internet use among teens is on the rise. The Internet has quickly become the number one media pre-occupation our children are busy with each day. Worse, not only are teens spending one to several hours a day surfing the web, the content that they are viewing has become progressively more violent and contains more explicit material than ever before. According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center, a groundbreaking national survey of 1,500 youth aged 10 to 17 documented that:

-More than one-third of youth Internet users (34%) saw “inappropriate” material online they did not want to see.

-The increase in exposure to unwanted material occurred despite increased use of filtering, blocking, and monitoring software in households of youth Internet users.

-Online harassment of youth has increased by 9% over the last five years.

-28% of solicited youth said an incident left them feeling very or extremely upset and in one-quarter of all solicitation incidents, youth had one or more symptoms of stress, including staying away from the Internet or a particular part of it, being unable to stop thinking about the incident, feeling jumpy or irritable, and/or losing interest in things.

These statistics should sound an alarm for parents concerned about their children’s development. Here’s why: For many teens Internet use has become an addiction, and, like all other addictives substances and activities, Internet addiction requires a therapeutic approach to wean its adherents away from this self-destructive behavior.

I know it may take a slight leap of creativity to connect the Internet to drug abuse but here are the similarities: Like addiction to drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, or caffeine, Internet addiction is marked by symptoms of increasing tolerance, withdrawal, mood changes, and interruption of social relationships. Children and adolescents who have become addicted to the Internet will require increasing amounts of time online in order to feel satisfied. When they do not have access to the Internet, they may have symptoms of withdrawal, which include anxiety, depression, irritability, trembling hands, restlessness and obsessive thinking or fantasizing about the Internet.

Independent of the depressing effects of excessive Internet use, the most devastating impact of Internet addiction may be the decreased amount of quality time teenagers have with their parents. Just like other addictions, the Internet addict probably suffers from feelings of emotional and physical isolation from his or friends and family and spends little time involved in healthy relationships which are the basis for positive emotional development.

As I outline in my book “At Risk – Never Beyond Reach,” the lack of quality time spent with parents may also be the most significant factor leading to at-risk behavior. In fact, I once asked a group of high school juniors and seniors at a well-known Jewish day school what they felt were the most important issues teens face. These were the students’ answers according to their own ranking, starting with the most important:

-Disappointment and anger with parents
-Dislike of teachers
-The intense desire to be accepted and fit in with friends
-The desire to be adults and the fact still they were under parents’ control
-The internal pressures of trying to develop and act on personal values as opposed to those of parents and friends
-The powerful forces of media encouraging experimentation with inappropriate relationships and alcohol
-The enormous physical and psychological changes that occur at this time of life

Surprisingly, issues like physical changes, peer pressure, and drug use were placed low on the students’ list, whereas the issues of poor relationships with their parents and teachers were ranked highest. In general, these teenagers seemed alienated from their parents and felt that their teachers had somehow let them down. Add to this a teenager’s sense of isolation from parents and family members and the connection between Internet use and the at-crisis becomes more and more apparent.

Study after study is showing that the relationship is the key to at risk crisis and the Internet may be pushing teenagers further away from maintaining healthy relationships with their parents. For example, a comprehensive research brief published by Child Trends, entitled Parent-Teen Relationships and Interactions Far More Positive Than Not, showed a direct correlation between the quality of the parent-teen relationship and the impact the relationship has on a teenager’s life.

Similar conclusions were also reached by two other studies: a Columbia University study in September 2002, found that “isolation from parents make affluent students more likely to become depressed, and to smoke, drink and abuse drugs,” ⁸ and a National Institute on Drug Abuse 1999 study showed that “Family-focused programs have been found to significantly reduce all the major risk domains and increase protective processes” and that “even those [families] with indicated ‘hard-core’ problems can benefit from family-strengthening strategies.”

In addition to the damage the Internet may cause to family relationships, excessive Internet usage can also be masking more difficult problems that teenagers are facing. It may therefore be necessary to seek outside help for a child with Internet addiction.

How much Internet use is too much? Parents can ask the following questions that can be answered in one of three possible ways: rarely, frequently or always:

-How often do they find that they stay online longer than they intended?
-How often do they form new relationships with unknown fellow online users?
-How often do their grades suffer because of the amount of time they spend online?
-How often do they find themselves anticipating when they will go online again?
-How often do they choose to spend more time on-line rather going out with others?

If they answer “frequently” or “always” to at least four out of the five questions, then it may be a sign that they are hooked into the Internet and could use some help to wean themselves away from constant use.

How can I wean my teen off the Internet?

How can parents break the addiction? Here are some suggestions that may change the frequency and duration of time your child spends online.

The first suggestion is for parents to end their child’s isolation and check up on them every 15 minutes to see what they are watching. They can also surf together with the child on various sites and turn “alone” time into “family” time. Better yet, parents and children can work on a joint project. A creative idea is to google your family name and explore your genealogy. Another may be to plan a family trip together and look for places and special deals online. The trick is to come up with something fun and engaging that places both you and your child in the same environment.

While you sit together in front of the computer screen, you could casually discuss some of the dangers of the Internet and the sites that may be damaging to their emotional well being. A good place to start is to discuss the dangers of chat rooms and to speak openly about who may be online and what possible predators may be looking for.

Another helpful strategy is to gently wean your child away from the Internet. If, for example, your child surfs for two hours a night, you can make the first move by saying, “I think surfing every night for two hours is too much. You can keep on surfing, but from now on, you can pick three nights a week if you want to go online. Which night do you prefer? It’s your choice.” You don’t have to abruptly cut off all Internet use; rather you can start by limiting their constant exposure and empower them with a choice of when they want to be online.

Many parents seem apprehensive about butting in on their teen’s computer time. I have found however that when someone is hooked online and asked to cut back they may be initially reluctant, but in the end they will be thankful to you for reducing their dependence. Often teens get carried away and will appreciate someone that can help them renew their sense of balance and proportion.

By far, the most effective tool against Internet addiction is to schedule quality time with your child away from the computer. That means parents should schedule with their teens a “date” each week where they spend enjoyable time together. Taking a walk together to the park, going out to eat, ice skating, volunteering, doing Chesed, learning a hobby, or just throwing a ball around are some of the activities that make life fun and bind families together.

When life gets hectic and time is limited, you can spend a few minutes alone just schmoozing in a quiet room of your house – without a computer or video screen. Most importantly during your “dates,” try to talk about matters that they think are important. What matters most is to give your teenager a feeling that he or she is the most important person in the world. These moments of relationship building can give your child the proper amount of emotional nourishment needed to end their dependence and wean themselves off the addictive effects of the Internet.

As Rabbi Abraham Twerski points out in the introduction to my book, At Risk – Never Beyond Reach, “It has been shown that the single most effective intervention for the widest variety of teen and adolescent problems was also the easiest, speediest, and least expensive: The implementation of family mealtimes.” This is because family mealtime fosters relationships. If your child is spending their entire evening surfing the web, then there’s no way he is gaining the positive benefits of quality time with his family.

Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, is a marriage and family therapist and maintains a private practice in Brooklyn. He is the author of “At Risk – Never Beyond Reach”. To make an appointment call 646 428 4723, email: rabbbischonbuch@yahoo.com or visit www.JewishMarriageSupport.com.

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  1. Levi
    Is that so just for your info there was not as many teens at risk like there is now me comming from there when i was a teen not that many years ago there was so many less as for now i work with teens and what he writes here is totaly true

  2. when a boys parents don’t pay attention to they’re children by showing them love & care & spending time with them etc… Thats when they turn to the internet to Chat & do other Tumahdika things on it R”L MAY THIS TUMA LEAVE KLAL YISROEL ASAP & return us to Hashem in the ways of trshuva towards Mashiach

  3. An excellent and very important article.

    Considering the wonderful advice re Parent/family relationships, however, it is unfortunate that there is no mention, at all, of the deeper, spiritual, “Neshama” experiences in family relationships/settings, and so I’ll mention something.

    The power of a “Kumzits”, (if organized in a way that will encourage hearts to open wide and express the soul’s yearning for and love of all that is holy), has always been phenomenal for ALL teens- way before the at risk era.
    “Kal VaChomer” today.

    The power of Neginah….of all out true “soul singing” and in SETTINGS which allow us (yes, “us” -I as an Adult, too)
    – -to express the deepest emotions, (such as lights being off, for example)….
    this power is incredible.
    Incredible enough to compete with what Internet has to offer the…Neshama !(…all that the Neshama is allergic to, resulting in “Neshama torture”, as we know).

    Family Kumzitses, my friends.
    It’s Pikuach Nefesh, and we must begin.
    Whether it’s Motz Shabbos, or any night chosen for this “treat”, if heart and soul is invested in these types of sessions (phones disconnected, etc), and with creative ideas (on the part of our precious teenagers, themselves, Davka) , these can be the sessions which will have alot more than the Parent/family bond, emotionally.
    These types of sessions will ALSO have the depth, spiritually, to recharge the Neshama in a way that despite happening only once a week, or bi monthly, his soul connected to it’s source (in such a laid back, spontaneous way) will definitely mean all-out success re the advice in the article about Parent/family quality time together, bonding, etc

    We CAN’T leave the Neshama and the spiritual dimensions out of the picture, because we’re involved in what is actually… a battle over the soul, correct?

    The above idea re “Family (with his best friend/s invited, perhaps)”Kumzitses” is but one idea who’s time has come.


    The Shabbos table itself for some families might also be opportunities for a more organized system of realy special soul singing (Dveikus)..giving the “microphone” to our precious son for a while (perhaps at end of meal)because, yes, we want HIM to pick those Nigunim HE likes and lead our “Tisch”.
    The point isn’t how this would/could work; it’s not the details, I’m simply opening a window for all of us to begin becoming more creative and original re capturing hearts and souls.

    Halevai the above will serve as a springboard …not for discussion but for… action!

    So…Excellent, important article and concrete advice, yes, but only through working on plans for the implementation of spiritual strategies for the souls under attack will there be true success, I believe.

    We can, and we must.
    We CAN turn the idea of Family Kumzitses into style, (and to the point of wonderful social pressure as well, as far as how normal the “Minhag” could become)
    And we MUST.

    If you agree that there’s an urgency about it, you definitely have your finger on the pulse.
    Of… the battle being waged over…

    Let’s dive in.

  4. PS

    1)I’m talking about special Family Kumzitzes which YOU, precious teenager, my younger brother, MUST be VERY active in putting together! (WITH some musical accomp, naturally. A good guitarist is fantastic).

    2)Yes, it is true that for some families it might be very difficult to organize even a bi monthly (as far all the pressure of day to day life etc), but let’s look at that word…dificult”, hmm…
    What word would be appropriate for a type of addiction that mamash destroys lives?
    A bit more than a “difficult” matzav, no?
    Than it’s time to overcome ALL and ANY “difficulties” re above.
    Let’s begin planning NOW, for next week.

    3)NO phone calls.
    Cel phones are all off!
    Because we’re connecting to the source of our Neshama- HKBH.
    Because… we’re mamash enjoying ourselves.

    Because…we’re becoming addicted to…what, deep down we really want to become addicted to.

    Even if there are two /one week breaks between each session.
    So that we can long for/look forward to the next session of sheer delight.

  5. PS#2
    Considering that it wont always be so easy to find a guy with a guitar,when you see you cant, just go ahaid and…YOU be the music -with your organized singing in rythm.

    At the same time, in conclusion, I’ll state again that if we see these “connecting” Sedarim as MUSTS (in families where there truly is a Matzav Sakana re addiction), than the “difficulty” re finding a guitar player (or other)wont be seen as difficult at all.

    All of the above are words emanating from the depths of a heart soaked with pain; may they enter yours, and lead to action.
    We CAN, and..
    We MUST.

  6. “It’s a topic most people shy away from, but it’s one that our society needs to begin to address.”
    This is an oft repeated idea that is used to rile people up to pay attention to this important issue. However, IT IS A LIE. Where is the statistic that most people shy away from it? Why is the author implying that mosdos, chinuch professionals, and regular laymen that are working on this urgent issue are few and far between? This is an issue that is at the forefront of every Jewish convention that takes place these days. It is a common discussion in the editorials and opinion pieces in all the Jewish papers and websites. It is an issue that is discussed by the masses.

    It is true that we need constant chizuk to re-double our efforts in this area. For the author to claim that is important to focus on this topic, or to bring out eye-opening statistics about the relationship between the internet and ‘at risk teens’ is a wonderful thing. But when he promotes the importance of his message with falsehoods it leaves a bad taste in the reader’s mouth.

  7. #1:

    Whether or not it causes kids to go off the derech, it can’t be denied that it’s a huge issue – not only with kids that go off r”l, but even with those that stay on. Take any group of normal, frum high school age kids and find out what they’re internet experience is – you may be surprised. These are good, solid, normal kids who have no intentions of doing anything wrong, or not staying frum – yet the issues are there.

    It’s very “in” to be involved with kids-at-risk, and rightfully so. But let’s not forget that even the majority of kids that stay frum have many pressing issues that need to be dealt with.

  8. I would just like to ask why the write didn’t mention any positive aspects of the Internet (with Matzav Filter!) Shiurim, Tzedokos, Matzav, and tons of other things. Let’s try to be positive a little, even in an obvious negative article.

  9. Internet is terrible! Why am I on it now? Because I’m not a teenager!! The problem can be for anyone NOT JUST TEENS!!!! Kids less than 10 suffer from addiction as well. Think before you write!

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