Lately parenting forums have been buzzing with parents looking for ideas how to keep their teenagers from spending a lot of time on the computer and Internet. It seems that teenagers these days are hooked on the computer just as they were hooked on watching television just a decade ago. Whether they are logging into MySpace, downloading songs from iTunes, blogging, chatting with each other over IM, or spacing out surfing the Web, mounting evidence shows that teen computer use can in some cases be classified as either a compulsion or even an addiction.
How do you know as a parent when your teen’s computer use is going too far? There is no easy litmus test here. If your teen loves to play online games, he may not be alone. However, if your teen seems to be sacrificing social opportunities or spending more than 25 hours a week in the online gaming arena, maybe something is wrong.
One of the Internet’s most popular games, the World of Warcraft, is a self-contained online world with millions of different players from dozens of countries around the world. This online realm sucks teenagers in easily, and some have been known to stay on the World of Warcraft site for more than 70 or 80 active hours per week.
Today’s teenager also has access to a variety of services available on the computer and over the Internet. Instead of using the telephone, they use instant messaging. They don’t get their pictures printed at the corner drugstore anymore but upload digital pictures to MySpace and sharing them with friends and anyone else instantly. Even the ever-present radio or stereo have fallen out of vogue because the computer has much better sound and its attached woofer makes the room vibrate even more. Watching a movie on television has been replaced with playing a DVD on the computer. Teens may even do their homework and school projects on the computer.
Considering that many people get addicted to the Internet, parents should be able to recognize when their teen is developing a bad habit. The isolating, repetitive nature of computer work in general can be stunting in terms of development. In addition, parents should be concerned if their teens are not getting enough exercise, nutrition and sleep. A friend of mine told me just a few days ago “I caught my 11 year old son playing games on the Internet at four o’clock in the morning!”
What Parents can do
I have spent most of my time on the computer writing my book for the last few months. Since our kids tend to do as they see more often than they do as they are told, I know this would not be a good time to bring this subject up with my daughter.
To establish a good and argument-proof plan when approaching your teen to discuss this topic, it is vital that you know exactly what your teenager is doing while on the computer and how much time he is spending on each particular activity. Establish which activities you will allow, and what Web sites or activities are off limit.
Your plan also needs to include how much time you will allow for each activity and how many hours you are willing to allow per week. The Internet has become an unsafe place for teens in many respects, so you also might consider one of the software packages available that allow you to set parental controls similar to the parental controls which block certain TV programs. Be prepared for your teenager’s question, “What do you want me to do instead?”
Set an example yourself. If you’re an online junky or a solitaire addict, cut back on your computer use to provide a good example. Take time to connect with your teenager and to bring your family together for non-computer/TV related activities, and you’ll likely see computer use decrease.