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Anything done to excess can develop into an addiction. Behavioral addictions, such as gambling, shopping, video gaming, and pornography, can hold just as powerful a grip on the victims as drugs or alcohol. Smartphone or Internet addiction is a case in point. It isn’t the hardware, or the phone, tablet, or computer itself that is the problem, but the apps that are embedded into the systems that causes the addictive behaviors.

Texting apps, social media apps, shopping apps, and gaming apps all provide a methodical subliminal delivery of dopamine to the user. Every “like” new follower on Instagram , “discount” claimed on the shopping site, or every reward or token earned on a video game stimulates a dopamine response in the brain. Dopamine is intrinsic to the brain’s reward system, and can lock in certain activities that are repeated.

Teens who have become so obsessed with their tablets or smartphones may have developed addictive qualities. Parents and educators are beginning to understand how prolific Internet engagement is undermining emotional and intellectual development.

This overuse of technology can result in a drop in grades, social withdrawal, isolating behavior, loss of interest in hobbies or extracurricular activities, anxiety, and depression.

What Does Teen Internet Addiction Look Like?

Recent Pew Research data should cause alarm bells to ring. According to their 2018 report, the number of teens who say they are on the Internet “Almost constantly” has nearly doubled in just three years to a whopping 45%. It states that 95% of U.S. teens have a smartphone, the usual conduit to the Internet in the adolescent age cohort. The teen world seems to revolve around various social media apps, with the most popular being Instagram, Snapchat, and Youtube.

Social media has evolved into an all-purpose tool where teens can connect with peers and family members, follow celebrities, gain information about beauty tips, fashion, and trends, and make new acquaintances. Teens also suffer from FOMO, or the “fear of missing out,” which is a driving force behind the constant need to be online.

How Do Teens Become Addicted to Technology?

Addiction to smartphones, or the Internet at large, occurs invisibly. As the teen is engaging on various platforms the brain will respond to positive rewards, such as a positive comment, a compliment about appearance, or post “likes,” This constant drip of dopamine begins to wire the brain’s reward system to repeat the activity (online behavior) to further experience these positive rewards.

Think about B.F. Skinner and his behavioral testing using rats and either a reward or a punishment. The rat who receives the reward will return over and over to continue receiving that reward, thereby cementing this behavior pattern. Technology apps work in this same fashion, trapping young people into repetitive behaviors that offer a “feel-good” result.

When Is Teen Internet Addiction Treatment Needed?

Ultimately, it is up to parents to control the amount of time their teen is using the Internet. This may seem like a tall order, but there are controls that parents can put on the phone, as well as tracking information that will inform the parent of the amount of time their teen spends online, the sites or apps used, and their whereabouts. Parents can simply take the phone from the teen at a certain time in the evening and keep them until morning, including laptops and tablets, further ensuring compliance to parental rules, while also helping their teen successfully finish homework and get a good night’s sleep.

Even with all the efforts parents and schools may make to help control Internet use, sometimes a teen will still develop compulsive smartphone use habits. When this results in:

  • Decline in academic performance
  • Loss of interest in extracurricular activities or hobbies usually enjoyed
  • Social isolation, loneliness
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Obsessed with being online
  • Signs of depression
  • Ignoring responsibilities at home, work, or school
  • Poor health due to lack of sleep or poor nutrition
  • Loss of interest in personal hygiene or appearance
  • Lack of fitness due to sitting online instead of outdoor activities
  • Signs of emotional distress, anxiety, due to social media bullying

When a teen exhibits some or most of these signs it is recommended that they be examined first by a medical doctor to determine if there is a condition that may be causing the symptoms. If not, a referral will likely be made to a mental health provider who can help with teen Internet addiction treatment, either outpatient or residential. Treatment will be centered on making positive behavioral changes, as well as learning the importance of limiting Internet use.

BNI Treatment Centers Provides Teen Internet Addiction Treatment

BNI Treatment Centers is a residential mental health center serving Los Angeles, California. At BNI Treatment Centers our psychiatric team is very tuned in to the current problem of teens becoming addicted to their smartphones. Understanding how to approach teens about this problem means making treatment relevant to their lives. At BNI Treatment our clinical team can guide the teens towards a healthy level of technology use in their life, while giving them actionable tools to use when they are bored or feeling lonely, instead of reaching for their cell phone. For more information about the program for teens aged 12-17, please contact BNI Treatment today at (888) 522-1504.

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