What's so Great About the Internet, Anyway?

Internet addiction, sometimes referred to as cyberspace addiction or online addiction, can manifest itself in many ways in today's teens.

If your daughter just spent an entire beautiful weekend tweaking her MySpace page, foregoing a trip with the family to an amusement park, she may be showing signs of addiction. If you checked your Internet browser's history only to find out your innocent, naÔve teenage son has spent the last five afternoons accessing pornographic Web sites where the titles alone are enough to make you blush, he may be addicted.

The Internet is a seductive place, especially for today's linked-in teens who are far more likely to add graffiti to their friend's Facebook wall than they are to actually get on their bicycle and ride over to that same friend's house. You have to admit it would be a challenge to connect face-to-face with someone you've never met in person and who lives in a different time zone.

Therein lies the problem. The Internet is perfect for teens. Today's social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter let them represent themselves as whomever, or whatever, they want. Everything is edited by them, chosen specifically to present the face they want the world to see. And if they decide to change that face, then they just delete some pictures, add some new friends, and voila' - new person!

Experts say that as many as 10 percent of Internet users may be considered addicted, although some mental health professionals balk at using that term in a clinical sense. They argue that an activity can only be addictive when it causes a certain type of chemical reaction in the brain, and that's hard to determine. But when you're arguing with a teen about the amount of time she's spending online and she just can't get her paper done because her AOL Instant Messenger keeps alerting her something new and exciting is happening with her best friend, then call it what you like, it's a problem - for you, the child, and the entire family.

Many parents feel torn, though, about limiting their children's time on the computer. If a teen is struggling socially, some parents believe any human interaction, even through the computer, is preferable to none. And with teens that are risk-takers or have questionable taste in friends, some parents feel they can better monitor and keep their children safe by letting them stay home, downloading music files and creating quizzes for their Web pages. And many parents just want to avoid the tantrums, the cold shoulder, or the arguments that flare whenever the issue of computer time management comes up.

There are a couple of Web sites that you and your child can visit together to assess their level of addiction. Try the addiction quizzes at netaddiction.com or mediafamily.org. Even if you don't actually believe your child is addicted, the tests are a good way to initiate some dialogue and get them thinking about how they are spending their time.

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