Internet addiction and how it impacts Teenagers and preteens

Internet addiction and how it impacts Teenagers and preteens

Internet has become an indispensable part of our life and the overuse of the same has brought in much physical, psychological and educational harms for many young people and of late observed much prevalent among the teenagers and preteens. Actually, the internet is an environment that could be abused by anyone (Griffiths, 1998), particularly by teenagers and preteens due to their lower cognitive and self-control ability. From neurobiological perspective, for young people below the age 25, brain is still developing and it develops in stages. According to the brain study, areas responsible for reward-seeking and basic drives matures first. The area responsible for reflective thinking, planning, and complex reasoning matures later which is the prefrontal cortex in the brain. This neurobiological immaturity in young people make them more susceptible to risky, sensation seeking, impulsive behaviours. They are also highly prone to peer influence.

Concept of internet addiction was first coined by Goldberg (1996) and by following DSM IV addiction criteria it was defined as “very strong desire or urge for using the internet”. Someone has nicknamed it as “mental obesity” which happens as a result of taking in lots of junks from the internet. Internet overuse can give a ‘high’ as similar to the one when one takes drugs, and one can get this behaviour reinforced. Any kind of addiction is manifested by an uncontrollable urge, often followed by loss of control, a preoccupation with the use and continued use despite the problems it has been causing to the individual (Young, 2004). Internet addiction can be described as an impulse control disorder that does not involve use of an intoxicating drug and is very similar to pathological gambling (Young, 1996). Internet addiction is also known as Pathological Internet Use (PIU).

 In the case of internet abuse, it is a milder form of addiction that can also cause problem for the individual. However the user has more control over his behavior and able to set limits and control the use. In both internet addiction and abuse the individual suffers impairment in social, psychological and occupational functioning (Young, 2004).

Normal users of internet use the technology for their daily needs within reasonable limits and are able to set limits while using it and demonstrate normal behaviours when they have no access to internet.  On the other hand, pathological users are in excessive mental activity-either dreaming about future or mulling over past activities on internet. The craving for using internet is in an increased proportion in order to get the satisfaction they desire. They often fail in their attempt control their desires and internet usage.Feeling irritable, angry, exhausted, and restless are some common behaviours seen among internet addicts.

After assessing many psychological, behavioral, and neurological studies of internet use, Carr (2010) is of the opinion that internet overuse is making people shallow thinkers and the digital world is persistently re-wiring our brains.

From his study Carr (2015) asserts that there are some gains and significant loss as a result of adaptation to an internet environment.  For example, video games can help your visual acuity, say, to spot patterns. But one’s increased urge for stimulating content and indulging in the same, can significantly reduce one’s ability to contemplate, introspect, to pay sustained attention, to meditate; also it reduces mindful acquisition of knowledge, creative thinking, critical thinking, and reflective thinking and so on. This is because attention is required for building memory which is part of one’s intellect. When, from working memory information get transferred to long term memory, consolidation memory takes place. When there is a rapid overload of information in one’s working memory without sustained attention on these information, this consolidation doesn’t happen in the long term memory (Carr,2015). This can impair one’s academic, social and occupational functioning.


Episodes of Depression: Cyber addiction can lead even teenagers and preteens to depression as a result of poor or lack of peer group relationship, socialization with friends, play and physical exercises.

Suicidal thoughts:Suicidal thoughts are common among internet addicts stemming from despair and hopelessness. Impulsive behaviours are also observed among these addicts.

Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior:Internet addicts can engage in ritualistic behavior in order to conceal their overuse of internet and also to ensure that the family members or colleagues do not come to know their addictive behaviours.

Paranoid Thinking:They may fear being exposed and ashamed. So they are constantly hyper vigilant and tend to associate even negligible observations with personal threats.

Value shift

Values such as respect and empathy toward the other, relaiigous values of integrity, purity of thoughts and intention and self-dsicspine and so on, take a back seat among the addicts.

Personality Characteristics

It has been found that internet addiction is mostly seen among teenagers and preteens who have low self-esteem, restricted social outlets, low frustration tolerance, less or no friends, increased tendency to intellectualize their behavioursand those having strong preference for solitary activities.

Psychological help for the addicted

  • There are other psychiatric disorders that are often noticed among addictive disorders and they should be properly evaluated.
  • It’s very rare that an internet addict come on his or her own to a therapist. Most likely the addict will present himself or herself with primary signs of clinical depression, bi-polar disorder, anxiety-related disorders, or obsessive-compulsive tendencies.
  • Internet addicts are likely to minimize their addictive Internet use while being treated for the referred disorder.
  • Psycho-educate the parents and significant others in the life of the addict on the cyber security laws of the country and laws laid down by the education board.

Some treatment tips for the Internet Over users

Some the treatment steps used and proposed by individual practitioners based on their experience in the areas of internet addiction and other addictions, include: (a) practice the opposite (b) use external stoppers, (c) set Goals, (d) abstain from a particular application, (e) use reminder cards, (f) develop a personal Inventory, (g) enter a support group, and (h) family therapy (Young, 1999).

To help the internet addicts help themselves, Goldberg and Young offer these following tips:

  • Internet addicts should recognize and help their caretakers become aware of patterns of overuse of internet and be aware of the basic symptoms.
  • Teenagers and the preteens should be able to gauge or help them gauge, the actual time spent on the mobile or computer, the time spent thinking about the internet activities either past or the future.
  • The next step is to identify underlying problems (Young, 1999). An addict should be able to ask himself or herself(or help him or her) find the answer the question, what is causing him or her to escape from everyday life.
  • Help him or her devise an action plan to work through the problem, rather than running away from the problem.
  • Final step is that the addicts or help the addicts seriously implement the steps devised and solve the addiction itself.

The above steps are akin to the four-step WDEP model of Reality therapy. WDEP refers to

W=wants, D=direction and doing, E=evaluation, and P=planning and commitment. The core component of Reality Therapy is to ask an addict the following questions (Kim, 2008):

What are you doing now?

What did you actually do this past week or mouth?

What stopped you from doing what you want to do?

What will you do tomorrow or in the future?


  • Carr, N. (2010). The Shallows: what internet is doing to our brains? W.W Norton & comp. NY
  • Carr, N. (2015, Sept, 29). What internet is doing to our brainsyouTube.
  • Griffiths, M. D. (1998). Internet addiction: Does it really exist? In J. Gackenbach (Ed.), Psychology and the Internet: Intrapersonal, interpersonal, and transpersonal implications. NY: Academic Press.
  • Kim, J. (2008). The effect of R/T group counselling programme on the Internet Addiction Level and self-esteem of Internet Addiction University Students. International Journal of Reality Therapy, Vol. XXVII (2).
  • Young S.K. (1996). Internet addictions: The emergence of a new clinical disorder. Published in Cyberpsychology and Behaviour, vol. 1(3), 237-244.
  • Young, K. (1999). Internet addiction: Symptoms, evaluation, and treatment. In L. Vande Creek & T. Jackson (Eds.), Innovation in clinical practice: A source book, 17 (pp.19-31). Sarasota, Flodrida: Professional Resource Press
  • Young, S.K (2004). Internet addiction: A new clinical phenomena and its Consequences. American Behavioural Scientist vol. 48 (4), 402-412. DOI: 10.11771002764204270278