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Digital Parenting: How Much Internet Activity is Too Much?

November 26, 2013 at 11:22 AM

teenagers on computersMost news concerning adolescents and the Internet highlight the actual dangers of online scams, cyber-bullies, and sexual predators that endanger credulous, gullible teens. The other risk is teens themselves. Perpetual hours spent online updating Facebook pages, writing tweets, emailing, instant messaging, sending photos on Instagram, downloading music, visits to game sites, shopping, and in some instances gambling, all contribute to the disturbances we see today regarding teen online activity.     

Kids today are spending on average slightly more than ten-hours per day, every day, online. This means that out of 168 hours in a week, kids spend 75 of those hours with some type of electrical or technical gadget.  

Within these averages, there are momentous dissimilarities. Comprehending where your child or teen lies within this scope is an initial step in digital parenting and figuring out whether or not you should adjust the quantity of time they spend online, or, if you believe that something much bigger is happening. Percentage wise, 21% of young people are categorized as heavy-media users who consume over 16-hours with media per day. Moderate users are in the highest category with 63% spending 3-16 hours per day. The light users’ category is those who spend less than three-hours online per-day.    

High End Internet Users

For teens that are high-end Internet users, spending too much time online takes away their ability to cognize the world around them. Real world experiences are not “real” but a distraction. Lower grades, an increased risk of depression, less sleep and more, are the result of too much media and Internet activity.  

Fortunately, most teen online activity is comparatively well managed as they stabilize their Internet use with friends, school, extra-curricular activities, and additional commitments. However, for a small fraction, the desire to remain online can become obsessive even extreme. This type of maladaptive conduct is intermittently called “Internet addiction.”  

Even though Internet addiction has not been acknowledged as a “legitimate” psychiatric diagnosis, psychologists and psychiatrists are requesting additional research in order to incorporate the term in future editions of the (DSM) Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel, the most revered written work on diagnosis and disorders for insurers, clinics, hospitals, and therapists.

While researchers are not close to completely understanding the cause and effect link between Internet usage and poor adaptive behavior, evidence reveals that the dangers to young people for developing these complexities is much greater than for older users.     

Who’s at Risk?

Specialists agree that teens who tussle with Internet excess do not fit one profile. Heavy Internet users can be socially connected kids, popular, and make good grades. They might spend lots of time tweeting online with friends, checking their Facebook, or posting photos on Instagram. The other side of the issue is the secluded, socially nervous teens. They may be teased, bullied, and shun school altogether. Anxious to meet others and connect, they might surf the Internet and visit game sites and chat-rooms to the omission of everything else.  

How Much Internet Activity is too Much?


As parents and caregivers, understanding how to make a distinction between “normal” Internet usage and “compulsive” use is extremely important in order to know when to seek help for problem behavior. Internet use naturally goes up and down to comply with other activities and curiosities amongst “well-balanced” Internet users.      

Internet usage can increase because your child has a big homework assignment to finish, they are putting together a social network, starting a new Internet game, or for some other temporary interest. Though these endeavors can be time consuming and absorbing, this is quite different behavior from a teen that spends nearly every waking moment, week after week, online ignoring relationships, homework, responsibilities, and the world at large.  

If you are uncertain whether your teen falls into the “obsessive” category, take a look at the list of warning signs below. While reviewing the list, remember that if a child or teen demonstrate one or several of these signs, it may or may not be cause for concern. For example, it is normal for teens to prefer spending time online rather than going out with family, or, if you are waiting for a particular email, you may check your mail more often. However, while checking the list, if most of the signs ring a bell, it may be time to consider taking some type of action for your child.    

Warning Signs of Obsessive Internet Use:

  • Obsessed with the Internet

  • Protective about online time

  • Prefers devices and not responsible  

  • Unable to control behavior

  • Over excitement while online

  • Time disappears

  • Loses sleep for online time

  • Irritated when not online

  • Checks messages impulsively throughout the day

  • Goes online instead of doing homework or chores

  • Prefers the Internet to the “real” world

  • Defies time limits for Internet usage

  • Lies about time spent online or sneaks online

  • Seems anxious to get back online

  • Other activities are no longer interesting

  • Avoids responsibilities, painful feelings, or troubling situations via the Internet

  • Depression

Parenting has become increasingly more complicated with cell phones and computers. Read about how you can keep up with it all in our eBook! Download “Digital Parenting: The Essential Guide to Raising Connected Kids” now.               

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Steven Woda

Written by Steven Woda

Steve Woda is the co-founder and CEO of uKnow, and a leader in the Internet safety and security field for over 15 years. He frequently speaks on the topics of Internet and mobile security, ecommerce and information economics. You can follow Steve on Twitter or on his blog.

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