Is the Internet being used by youngsters to connect with others and keep abreast of the times or as an escape from reality?

With Internet Addiction Disorder all set to be published in the DSM-5 this year, the need to understand what it actually is and how to combat it is only growing. It is mostly found among kids, who spend most of their time surfing the Net and playing violent games online, or chatting away to glory. Internet addiction is also common among couples, who communicate with each other using social media while, in reality, they would be sitting next to each other!

Many of the self-confessed addicted teenagers say that the Internet provides a safety blanket for them to escape from the trials and tribulations of real life. Faceless communication, which seems far less intimidating in comparison to face-to-face conversations, helps them to be honest about situations they would otherwise push under the rug. Constant neglect and isolation from real life peers and relatives also push people to seek comfort and an emotional connect with strangers online, which seems very satisfying at first.

“I go onto the Internet to escape real life,” says college student, Rachna Sukuru. “For those few hours, I can forget about college, projects and everything. It is just me doing things I love on the Internet.”

Psychologist and counsellor Mohana Narayanan believes it is important for these youngsters to confront issues instead of using the Internet as a diversionary tactic. After a point 'issues' and 'problems' are used as excuses to get onto the Internet. If these problems are faced squarely, the person wouldn’t always reach out for a phone or computer.

The constant need to connect and be aware of everything is one of the reasons people use the Internet in the first place. If used judiciously, it is not harmful, and as long as the person concerned exercises self-control, it wouldn’t escalate to an addiction.

Beyond limits

“Anything that goes beyond a boundary, becomes a disorder,” says Narayanan. “If you surf the Net for 15 minutes everyday and feel good about it, fine, no issues there. But if you get anxious that you haven't surfed, it becomes a problem.”

“I tried to cut down on my Internet time. Unfortunately, my self-control lasted for just about a week,” says Sukuru, adding, “I'm still trying to cut down on my Internet time by dedicating my leisure hours to reading books and meeting friends. The problem is, the moment I'm away from the Internet, I have this restless feeling.”

In colleges, where using laptops for taking down notes and working on projects is allowed, it is not uncommon to see students surfing the Internet and talking to their friends while the teacher is taking a class. This results in students being completely unaware of the study material and lagging behind severely. It also causes a rift between the students and teachers because the teachers end up feeling underappreciated.

College lecturer Sathyabama Oppilli believes that social media and Internet are beneficial to both the faculty as well as students when it comes to communicating important announcements and information. But if the usage exceeds the limit, she believes it transcends into an addiction.

“You lose reading habits; neither does it create them,” says Opilli. “Going to the library to read helps one become aware of more books which is not how it is with the Internet.”

To kick the addiction

To come out of the situation, one should spend as much time as possible outside. Joining groups, making plans with friends, joining a gym, taking part in sports, reading and spending time with family are different activities that a person could partake in to spend time away from the Internet.

Parents should be very disciplined when it comes to their child's Internet habits. They should supervise their online activities, and restrict the amount of time they spend online.

Instead of spending all the time on the internet, youngsters should be encouraged to spend time with their family and friends. It's the lack of attention from either side that tends to push them to seek for the same online. Family outings, lunches with friends and joining will help social skills develop and drastically reduce dependency on the Internet.

Internet itself is not bad. The advantages it offers are known to one and all, but when used in excess, it becomes harmful and dangerous.

“So long as you are in control and know you are not exposing yourself to more than an hour a day — age-appropriate, it's fine,” concludes Narayanan.