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Interventions for Problematic Internet Use
Web Addicted Teens  continuing education social worker CEUs

Section 2
Emotion Regulation and Compulsive Internet Use

CEU Question 2 | CEU Test | Table of Contents | Internet
Social Worker CEUs, Psychologist CEs, Counselor CEUs, MFT CEUs

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In the last section, we presented techniques useful in introducing the idea of Problematic Internet Use to clients.  These techniques included: Problematic Internet Use; Web Quiz; and Assessing the Damage.

In this section, we will examine three types of emotional attachment that teen clients may form to the internet.  These three types of emotional attachment include:  friendship; catharsis; and validation.

3 Types of Emotional Attachments

♦ #1 Friendships

The first type is friendships.  I have found that when addicted clients form bonds on the internet, these friendships are shallow, but feel authentic to the client.  The lure of these types of relationships lies in the ease with which they may be carried out.  An email takes a lot less effort than arranging a face to face meeting with a physical friend. 

Valerie, age 16, had formed several online friendships that began to interfere with her other relationships.  Valerie was slightly overweight and the butt of many bullies' jokes at school.  Valerie stated, "When I'm with my real friends, I'm always thinking about my chat-room friends.  But when I'm with my chat-room friends, I never think of my real friends.  All of my troubles go away and I forget about my school and bullies.  One day, one of my chat-room friends told me she was going to stop talking to me.  I cried for days, and I kept replaying our electronic conversations over and over." 

I stated to Valerie, "Even though you may feel that your online friendships mean something more, in fact, human beings need physical and visual contact as well.  Without it, we lose a great deal of our outward expressiveness.  Thereby, we lose the most simple form of communication." 

I have also found that clients who form these electronic friendships have underlying self-esteem issues.  Some of them feel they are overweight or unattractive.  By forming a friendship online, the other users can never judge the client on appearances alone which makes the internet so alluring in the first place.  We will discuss self-esteem in a later section. Think of your Valerie.  How would you address the issue of online friendships?

♦ Technique:  Real-World Support
Because much of Valerie's Problematic Internet Use was related to her need for friendship, I asked her to try to find "Real World Support" to replace the electronic support.  I asked Valerie to make a list of her family and loved ones that could give her support during this difficult developing time.  Also, I asked her to think of other ways to make new friends outside of her virtual world. 

After a few weeks, Valerie gave me the following list:
           -- Arrange weekly coffee outings with Mom
           -- Go to the movies and beach with my nephew
           -- Join a club at school

Valerie concentrated her list to people and activities that she knew would be helpful to her in her time of need.  Think of your Valerie.  Could he or she benefit from some "Real-World Support?"

♦ #2 Catharsis
The second type is catharsis.  Many internet users who seem mild mannered during the day can become ferociously aggressive with the guise of anonymity.  The internet becomes a safe haven to vent anger and frustration accumulated during the day.  Michael, age 13, used the internet to vent his hateful views about his teacher. 

Michael stated, "Whenever I knew I was being screwed over, which was a lot, I went to my chat rooms and let everyone know.  They all sympathized with me and told me what an asshole he was.  I had never mentioned him by name, but everyone else seemed to have the same kind of teacher.  We all formed our own little clique in which we hated our teachers or bosses.  Sometimes it would get violent and we'd picture ourselves killing our teachers or the people we just didn’t like.  It just feels good to know that there are people out there listening to me and won't judge me." 

I stated to Michael, "Even though it may feel good now to vent your frustrations, these angry feelings are not being checked properly.  The importance of having a physical group of friends is to actually hear their input not read their agreements.  This input creates a stability in our lives by which we can judge our own emotional outbursts more effectively."  Think of your Michael.  Is he or she using the internet to vent his or her frustration?  How would you address this issue?  What alternatives could you give your client?

♦ #3 Validation
In addition to friendships and catharsis, the third type of emotional attachment is validation.  Many chat rooms and message boards specialize in a wide range of topics such as politics, movies, or even recipes.  These message boards provide a medium for clients to express their own opinion without retribution. 

Jordan, age 17, was an avid political blogger.  He was raised in a conservative southern town that valued Christian ideals and traditionalist ways of thinking.  However, Jordan did not agree with many of his friends and family members on most of the issues, but he could not bring himself to express these opinions to his family.  He found a political message board that followed his own viewpoints and when Jordan expressed these opinions, he was met with sympathy and agreement. 

He stated, "It's great.  I can be as liberal as I want and I don't have to see anyone's physical response to my messages.  No facial expressions that say I'm weird or that I'm stupid and naïve.  Even if someone types a response that I don't like, I simply ignore it and wait for the next message from a more affirmative source." 

I stated to Jordan, "Don't you ever feel that your real opinions are being suppressed?  Even if they are expressed on this message board, you're really not being yourself in public.  This could lead to other problems such as low self-esteem and withdrawal from other, real people."  Think of your Jordan.  Is he or she using the internet to validate his or her opinions?

In this section, we discussed types of emotional attachment to the internet.  These types included:  friendship; catharsis; and validation.

In the next section, we will examine aspects of escapism.  These aspects include: the three phases of escape; avoidance; and anonymity.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Ciarrochi, J., Parker, P., Sahdra, B., Marshall, S., Jackson, C., Gloster, A. T., & Heaven, P. (2016). The development of compulsive internet use and mental health: A four-year study of adolescence. Developmental Psychology, 52(2), 272–283. 

Donald, J. N., Ciarrochi, J., & Sahdra, B. K. (2020). The consequences of compulsion: A 4-year longitudinal study of compulsive internet use and emotion regulation difficulties. Emotion. Advance online publication. 

Pouwels, J. L., Valkenburg, P. M., Beyens, I., van Driel, I. I., & Keijsers, L. (2021). Social media use and friendship closeness in adolescents’ daily lives: An experience sampling study. Developmental Psychology57(2), 309–323.

Strubel, J., Petrie, T. A., & Pookulangara, S. (2018). “Like” me: Shopping, self-display, body image, and social networking sites. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 7(3), 328–344.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 2
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