DIGITAL DETOX: Too much time online - Tucson News Now

DIGITAL DETOX: Too much time online

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Everything is online, from friends and family to information and entertainment. Some of us spend more time online for work or school, but how would you know if your internet activity is actually an addiction?

Benjamin Wong, with Mindful Digitality, has helped people with problem video gaming, social media overload and too much screen time. He considers three C's when people turn to him for help with their addiction.

Control

If you no longer feel like you are in control of your time online, Wong said that's the first red flag. If you scroll through your tablet without a purpose, then you may be losing control of your use.

Compulsion

Posting a photo to social media and constantly checking it for new likes, favorites, share or comments, is a sign of compulsion, according to Wong.

Spending too much time online is technically not an addiction, but a compulsion, according to the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition.

Consequences

When video games take away from everyday responsibilities or family time, Wong said the resulting negative consequences are a clear sign of a problem.

Because internet addiction is still a fairly new issue, Wong said the folks he has helped are pretty well entrenched in their online use.

"People coming to seek help, they tend to now be in more ... in the severe end, in the spectrum of problems before they come to seek help," he said.

Several counselors, psychologists and rehab centers confirmed to Tucson News Now that they are treating or have treated people for too much screen time.

Kathleen Parrish, Clinical Director at Cottonwood Tucson, said the majority of people she sees for online addiction are teenagers and young adults.

"They're hoping to get feedback from people about whether they're OK or not OK," she said. "You find people who become depressed, become suicidal. There's social bullying that goes on. And all the while we would say 'Well, stop doing that.' For them it becomes addictive."

Parrish said some sites can fuel even more negative behavior and feelings in teens, and they're likely to be online more than most of us because it's what they grew up with as a communication tool.

"They don't know anything different, because that's how their world interacts and that's what they know," said Parrish. So that's why I think we're seeing more of that addictive behavior with things like that."

She encourages parents to be involved in their children's online use, and to take it even further by having access to social media and game accounts.

Olivia James, a junior in high school, said most of her online time is dedicated to reading. She said she feels like she's online a little too much when she doesn't need it for her studies.

"I'm able to live without it," she said. "I just feel like maybe sometimes I go on it too much and I try to stop it, but I don't."

Her mother said she's not worried about James' internet use because her grades are still good and she's sociable with friends and family.

A drop in grades/productivity or a lack of interest in a social life is a strong warning sign, according to Parrish.

Brandon Barber, a father of three, said screen time is the biggest argument in his house on a daily basis. He said his 11-year-old daughter and his 16-year-old son fight back when it's time to stop playing video games.

"It's difficult," he said. "Unwatched, they are absolutely addicted."

He said he regrets giving his son a cell phone, because it's been taken away from him longer than the teen's actually used it.

Talking with other parents, Barber said he realized that this difficulty is not unique to his family. He remembers the moment when he realized it was more than just entertainment for his family and more of an addiction.

"When we had to use that as punishment for him not doing something," he said. "You take away that video game and he absolutely flips out."

Barber likened it to taking the drinks away from an alcoholic. Wong would agree, saying he sees many of the same issues that might be associated with more infamous addictions.

"The risk factors are not exactly too different from issues such as gambling or alcoholism," said Wong. "They're very similar."

There are apps available to help folks with their online use. Some shut down internet access after a certain amount of time or after a specified hour of the day. Others send automatic replies to messages, so that you won't be distracted by new notifications.

Any tool that can help limit your online exposure can be a good thing, according to Wong. However, he said nothing compares to the personal connections that come from face-to-face interaction with people after phone and tablets are turned off.

There are plenty of positives that come from social interaction and entertainment outlets online, but Parrish said the threshold for addiction is when those positives disappear.

"As we continue to advance and we continue to learn more about how we use the internet, it's not a bad thing," she said. "But when we cease to have benefit from those and start to have consequences and ... struggles, then we know it's time to set some limits, time to change some behavior."

If you're curious about your child's amount of time online or even worried about your own, there are several quizzes available for free:

http://netaddiction.com/internet-addiction-test/

http://www.globaladdiction.org/dldocs/GLOBALADDICTION-Scales-InternetAddictionTest.pdf

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