The child or adolescent no longer has friends that they interface with on daily basis in terms of deep relationships. They would rather seek out electronic friends who share the same interests instead of kids from school or the neighborhood. In this situation, the child is missing out on social skill development such as how to share, compromise, etc. Many of many of these children and adolescents already have deficits in social skills and their electronic isolation does not give them opportunities to improve.
Watch out for what we call parallel play. Parallel play is when kids are both playing video games in the basement, not talking to each other or interacting with each other. They are together, but there are fewer interactions than when kids are doing non-electronic activities.
Irritability comes from overreacting to losing at games, loss of sleep or a parent request to stop using electronics. Irritability is a definite sign that the child is starting to have an addiction issue. The irritability gets compounded by sleep issues or by frustration issues. Almost like a gambler in Vegas, there are symptoms and signs that this is becoming a more significant issue.
My aunt, who is a lovely person, worked as a saleslady for her entire life. Once retiring, she used to take trips to Atlantic City and Vegas. She became enthralled with Vegas and over time, lost everything she had. Once, she asked me to pay her rent. I offered to send the money directly to the landlord so that she would have a place to live and would not gamble the money. She became very irritable and would not talk to me anymore. This is an extreme measure of irritability, but yet an example of what something might look like as things do not go the person’s way.
I know teens and pre-teens who punch holes in the walls of their home after parents demand their game controllers or cell phones. Or simply steal them back! One young man destroyed his mother's precious tea set, inherited from her grandmother when he was forbidden online access. Others will become very upset when they can't beat a level in a game or if the internet goes down. Irritability with self and others is an especially strong indicator or an electronic addiction, especially when coupled with physical or verbal aggression.
Stealing or borrowing money you cannot repay is a typical sign of an addicted gambler. What I have seen with addicted gamers is that they will use their parents’ credit cards without permission to purchase expansion packs or other gaming enhancements. The parents won’t turn them into the police because they do not want them having a criminal record. Some teens will borrow money from peers and not be able to pay it back and thus have to steal things from their parents. I know of a young lady who stole her mother and grandmother’s wedding rings to pawn so that he could feed his electronics addiction.
Most adolescents change their relationships with their immediate family members. Typical adolescent changes are that they withdraw to their room more and spend more time with their friends. Those are typical adolescent changes. However, when you see teens who isolate in their rooms and spend no time friends, that is a concerning sign. One must consider this could be a signal that they are losing their friends because of the electronic addiction that they have.
Boys and girls as well, are getting more and more access to Internet pornography. Even though pornography has always been around, today it is much easier to access, it is much more explicit, and it can certainly make an impact, especially for younger children. I’ve worked with a young teen who was addicted to watching videos with anal sex or people inserting objects into their rectum. He becomes stimulated by these videos and masturbates. This is a serious concern for safety reasons as well as for the potential to create long-term damage to his adult behavior.
Addicted individuals often drop out of other activities such as marching band, swimming team, cross country, scouting or other common youth activities, which isolates them and puts them in a position where their sole connection are online
Loss of friends means that they lose close friends, people who invite them to sleepovers, to sit together at lunch, to go bowling or to a sporting event, and to connect with in person. You’ll learn more about this in the chapter on friendship.
Some children and adolescents that I work with become very aggressive over losing their games. They will often become verbally aggressive and even on some occasions become physically aggressive. They use the retaliatory theory; if you take their games, they will take your things, and this is often an oppositional child’s opportunity to get back at you.
You can ask your child, "Have your friends or anybody brought up your use of electronics to you?" The most common answer is, “All my friends do the same thing as I do.” That can be the case, but often it is because they are narrowing down their friendship field to peers that are similar to them and only do the same things.
It’s normal for youth to change friends and peer groups as they age. Healthfully done and in balance, this is not a bad thing; however, unhealthfully done it becomes a problem. Children are exposed to information that they are not ready to process, and others might be maneuvering to manipulate them into certain situations that feel overwhelming. Once again, that is not to say all of this connection is bad, because it is not. It is again how it is used and how the balance is achieved.
Look at home much time your child spends online versus time offline. Is there a reasonable balance? If you observe your kid’s world shrinking to the point that he or she only finds fun or satisfaction in the electronic world, there is a problem to address.
From: Parents Quick Guide To Electronic Addiction, by Dr. Jay Berk, PhD
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