Help children get over their Internet-addiction

Global surveys indicate that 25% of the parents have no time to monitor internet use by children while the rest do not know everything that their children are engaged in the virtual world

Photo by Santosh Harhare /Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Santosh Harhare /Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Jaydip Sarkar

Sheena, a 16-year-old teenager from Delhi used a mature woman’s DP on Facebook and became ‘friends’ with Mr Tiwari, a married teacher in his mid-thirties. Soon he was sending her messages. Initially their discussions revolved around politics, history and international affairs but later became more personal as he disclosed that he is unhappy in his marriage. Sheena told him about her problem of being bullied and ostracised at school.

This ‘struck a chord’ with Mr Tiwari who said he too had undergone such experiences, immediately making Sheena feel close to him. She told him she had consulted a psychiatrist, was missing school and her grades were falling. After meeting him a few times, Sheena felt relaxed and less depressed, telling him that being with him made her feel good. At some stage they started hugging and kissing and it culminated in the two having sexual intercourse on few occasions. As time passed Sheena became emotionally more dependent on him and when he wanted to end their relationship, she became suicidal, cut her wrists and told her mother the real reason for her suicidal behaviour.

Here is yet another case of a teenager from Mumbai. Vikram was a quiet and well-behaved 15-year old boy, who lived with his alcoholic father after his parents divorced. He spent a lot of his time online, since home was an empty space. When he began to struggle with studies and his grades dropped, he quickly found similar friends with whom he started smoking and visiting gaming sites. He soon needed more and more money to buy new games or access porn websites. Watching porn and masturbating gave him both a sense of relief and pleasure.

Soon enough he was engaging in consensual sexual activities with a 12-year old intellectually challenged boy. He recorded one of their sexual encounters and uploaded it on to a website for which he was paid INR 1000. While checking his laptop one day, his aunt found out about his online illegal activities and informed the police. Subsequent investigation led to the exposure of a large syndicate of paedophiles who were using children for their own pleasure and gratification.

Internet addiction

Internet addiction amongst children is increasingly becoming a worldwide problem. It can have major emotional, social and even legal implications. In a survey, 56 per cent of teens said that their parents know some of what they do online, not everything while 25 per cent reported their parents don’t have time to check what they do.

A child or young person whose needs are not being met in the real world engages in activities online that are designed to meet those needs in the virtual world. For many, internet use provides a psychological escape from tension and agitation. Internet addiction, just like drug addiction, hence acts as a stress-relieving mechanism.

For others, the lack of attachment with family or friends leads to using sex as a way to connect with others. Often such sexual encounters are of a deviant kind due to their learning from pornography where the female is often seen to be enjoying performing sexual acts that can be quite degrading.

Major family problems range from little or no communication with children to harsh parenting styles. Such regimes do not allow them to emotionally connect or engage in real (non-virtual) pleasurable activities with others. Such kids become loners who tend to find pleasure (and relief from stress) on their own.

So why is it that seemingly well-behaved children become addicted, some turning to crime when they are online? Research suggests that cyberspace can act as an enabler of crime. Two factors are important: one is the anonymity of the internet and operating from the comfort of one’s own bedroom.

Second, the convenience of interactive online applications such as email, chat rooms, online forums and personal messaging services, or indeed role-playing games/forums provides a vehicle to meet others.

How can parents help?

  • Parents must help the child become a responsible, ethical digital citizen with healthy online relationships. They can encourage children to engage in more outdoor activities and socialising.
  • Strengthen relationship with child, setting up clear boundaries and consistent use of consequences for negative behaviour to make the child perceive parents as being fair and balanced.
  • As a parent, you can gain your child’s trust and encourage them to talk about any difficulties at school and/or with peers.
  • Understand the digital world your child inhabits: Know how to operate and what kind of activities are possible on iPods, instant messaging, chat, computer games, game consoles, cell phones, text messaging, webcams, etc. Rather than banning the use of such devices which may make children more deceptive, engage with them and find out more. In particular, find out about various online digital games and what they are involved in.
  • Place computer system in common areas where you can see what they are doing rather than allow them to disappear into their bedrooms and out of sight.
  • Set up parental controls through the use of appropriate parental control Apps. The media reports that more teens are getting porn via mobile phones due to lack of filters for cellphones.

Remember, the computer, the internet and what it provides is there to stay and indeed get more complex and challenging to police. It is our collective responsibility to help and protect our future citizens.

(The author is based in Singapore and is a Senior Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist)

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