Internet Addiction In Children

Is it very difficult to take your child away from the phone or the computer screen? Is he always texting or downloading something? He may be addicted to the Net. We tell you how to deal with it.

By Dr Debarati Halder

Internet Addiction In Children

The use of the Internet can have a positive as well as a negative impact on children. The benefits of using online tools are many – they make a child more creative, motivate him to be a good learner and encourage him to be a good researcher. However, the negative aspects of using the Net often outweigh its benefits. One of the main problems of using the Net is addiction among children. Children, who become addicted to the Net, are mostly allured by online games initially. However, they may eventually be exposed to unwanted or obscene content on the Net or even commit a cybercrime.

Here are some of the reasons for Internet addiction in children:

  1. A constant urge to search for new games
  2. Obsessive desire to download various apps
  3. A need to stay connected with friends through digital communication apps
  4. Curiosity to explore the amazing world of Internet by themselves
  5. Imitation of adults who are always busy on the phone
  6. Obsession with taking and posting selfies

Harmful effects of Internet addiction on children

Internet addiction can not only affect your child’s behaviour but may also lead him to getting in trouble with the law, if not checked at the right time. Here are some ways he can be negatively affected because of online addiction:

Exposure to inappropriate content: Your child may not only be exposed to unwanted content, he might also get trapped by becoming a contributor and consumer of obscene content like porn or be hooked on to violent content.

Sharing of personal information and pictures: If your child is addicted to uploading pictures on the Net, he may accidentally upload pictures that may violate someone’s privacy, or even some inappropriate personal pictures that he accessed through your phone or social media profiles. Also, children may be asked to click inappropriate pictures by agents who do unethical businesses by uploading ‘voyeuristic’ pictures of women and children. Children who ‘supply’ these pictures unknowingly may also be hooked to the Internet to see where their pictures have been uploaded and how much ‘fan following’ they have because of such pictures.

Exposure to violent content: Your child may also get addicted to violent games and may be inspired to create or post violent content online. This may also affect her behaviour negatively, whereby she may behave rudely or violently, or may even turn into a bully. Like drug addiction, with Internet addiction, children also start showing compulsive disorders where they need to access the devices and the Net even when they are forbidden to do so.

Legal implications: Parents also need to understand that because of their child’s Internet addiction, he might also get into legal trouble. Under the various provisions from Information Technology Act, POCSO Act, Indian Penal code, etc., for which the punishment can even be a jail term for a minimum of two to three years, children can be booked for sending or publishing offensive content, posting pictures of individuals, especially women and children without their consent, sending repeated messages, playing the role of proxy stalkers and aiding main stalkers (who may be adults as well), hatching plans for violent activities including kidnapping, threatening to leak private data, sextortion, hacking, etc.

In certain cases, the law may not see the age, maturity level or gender of the child when imposing strict punishment, especially if the child offender has been a part of heinous crimes and is within the age bracket of 16 to 18 years. The punishment in such cases may be heavier and they may be treated like adult offenders.

So, what are the effective ways of handling Internet addiction in children? Here are five important tips:

Tips to deal with Internet addiction in your child
  1. Do not use gadgets as ‘pacifiers’. You never know which site your child may open and how she can be exposed to unwanted content.
  2. Do not allow your child to use your social profiles to connect with ‘friends’. Also, restrict him from having his own online profile without proper supervision until he is mature enough to understand the pros and cons of using the Internet.
  3. Monitor your child’s habit of clicking random pictures. She should be made to understand a person’s right to privacy.
  4. Do not allow your child to download games or apps without your permission, even if they are free of cost. The games or apps may have inappropriate content that he may not understand.
  5. Do not give in to your child’s demand to use the Internet whenever she wants. If she is restless, find out the reason for the same and talk to her. Parents need to understand that either their child may want to escape the tension related to studies or exams by surfing the Net or she may have experienced some sort of victimisation for oversharing personal information and is anxious about what the perpetrator might reveal.

If parents set a good example by restricting their Internet usage to only when necessary, children may learn to follow their parents. Make the online world a safer and happier place for children by setting your own goals related to Internet usage. 

The author is the Managing Director of Centre for Cyber Victim Counselling.

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