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Interventions for Problematic Internet Use
Web Addicted Teens continuing education psychologist CEUs

Section 3
Internet Escapism

CEU Question 3 | CEU Test | Table of Contents | Internet
Psychologist CEs, Counselor CEUs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

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

Have you found, like I, that one of the primary reasons that teen clients become addicted to the internet has to do with escaping from the outside world?  Unwilling or unable to face their problems head-on, internet-addicted teen clients immerse themselves in the electronic world. 

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

3 Aspects of Escapism

♦ #1 The Three Phases of Escape

The first aspect is the three phases of escape. These phases include:  engagement, substitution, and escape. 

-- Phase 1 - Engagement
Engagement, the primary phase, occurs when the client first comes in contact with the internet and finds that certain aspect, such as a blog or game, that pulls them in further. Whitney received her first computer from her parents when she was 15.  A few weeks later, she discovered teen chat rooms and then from there, more adult oriented rooms and websites. 

-- Phase 2 - Substitution
The second phase, substitution occurred when Whitney began to replace certain activities such as reading with the internet.  At this point, she had formed relationships with other members of cyberspace and her alias, puppyluv07, had developed a personality completely different than her actual personality.  

-- Phase 3 - Escape
The final phase, escape, occurred when Whitney had become completely immersed in her online community.  She felt at peace and numb while online, and had developed a dependence on the internet for security.   She stated, "Whenever I was feeling stupid in class, which was often, I could forget about it when I’m online.  I had an immediate group of friends who could listen to me anytime I needed them to.  I never really needed that other world of physical contact anymore." 

Think of your Whitney.  Could someone have prevented her problems in internet use?  Where in the three phases do you think the Problematic Internet Use took over?  In the second phase?  In the third phase?

♦ #2 Avoidance
The second aspect is avoidance.  When clients use the internet to escape from the world, they most likely wish to escape from another problem in their lives.  As we will discuss in a later section, these might be underlying severe emotional issues such as depression or anxiety.  However, there may be more specific troubles.  These include:  loneliness, school-related stress, boredom, struggles with recovery from other problematic internet use, and a limited social life. 

About 37 percent of teens say they have used such modules as instant messenger to write something that they would not have said in person.  Carol, age 16, was homeschooled and had begun to become involved with the internet to fill her day.  Soon, she adopted the alias, Missy X, and was known in the chat room for her flirtatious and careless banter.  Carol stated, "I never knew I had this side in me!  It’s like the safety of the screen allows me to unleash my unconscious desires.  I can express whatever impulses I need to repress during the day.  It feels liberating!" 

I stated to Carol, "One of the reasons you may be engaging so fully in the internet is your feelings of loneliness during the day.  Without interactions from people outside of your family, you're feeling closed off from the outside world and from expressing your true identity.  Many internet addicts don’t realize how lonely they really are until they experience the surprising joy of meeting their first friend in the online community.  What sort of thoughts do you get when you think about giving up the internet completely?" 

Carol stated, "Terrified!  I don’t know what I would do with myself!  There would be no one to talk to, I might go crazy."  As you can see, without a substantial substitute, Carol is afraid to return to her feelings of isolation, especially after having been a part of such a large, vibrant community.

♦ Technique:  Concrete Steps
To help clients like Whitney and Carol cope with their problems of insecurity and loneliness, I asked them to try the Concrete Steps exercise.  In it, I asked them to write out a concrete strategy that could help them face the problems they are trying to escape from.  I agreed to help them decide on one concrete step they would take every day to address their problems. Carol was worried about returning to her lonely life.  Each day, Carol would implement a new concrete step. 

Such concrete steps included:  joining a book club; joining a soccer team; joining an orchestra; contacting a pen pal.  Notice that not every one of these concrete steps involved physical human contact, but did absorb Carol in thinking about others and reaching out to them.  Think of your Carol and Whitney.  Would concrete steps help them to face their problems in the real world and break them of their escapist behaviors?

♦ #3 Anonymity
In addition to the three phases of escape and avoidance, the third aspect is anonymity.  The most alluring aspect of the internet is the ability to conceal one’s identity behind a screen.  According to surveys, 26 percent of teens who use instant messenger say they have pretended to be someone else while using it.  This ability to redefine one’s identity can trick the client into thinking that whatever he or she does in cyberspace has no relevance in the actual world. 

Also, the flexibility of one’s identity is only limited to one’s imagination.  Carol, the home schooled student introduced earlier on in this section, was encouraged by her alias Missy X to be much more flirtatious than she ever would have in real life.  Michael, age 17, used private chats to vent his often controversial political and social opinions. 

He stated, "Normally, I would never get involved with a political discussion.  I have opinions that no one else I know would agree with.  But when I was online, no one could give me dirty looks and I would never feel the consequences.  Until one day, I was chatting with one of my close friends, Darleen, and I said, ‘the black people living in the inner city on welfare is the largest societal problem we have today’ and Darleen said, ‘uh, actually, I’m one of those people.’  I was mortified!  I quickly typed out, ‘I’m sorry, for any discriminatory comments, you didn’t sound black’ but I never heard from her again.  I guess tact is something you need even on the internet." 

In Michael’s case, he found out the hard way that anonymity does not necessitate immunity from the repercussions of expressing one’s opinion.  Think of your Michael.  Is he or she using the internet because of the possibility of losing one’s self?

In this section, we discussed three aspects of escapism.  These three aspects include: the three phases of escape; avoidance; and anonymity.

In the next section, we will examine the concepts of internet time consumption.  These concepts included:  unchecked time flow; internet interference; and denial.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Baggio, S., Starcevic, V., Studer, J., Simon, O., Gainsbury, S. M., Gmel, G., & Billieux, J. (2018). Technology-mediated addictive behaviors constitute a spectrum of related yet distinct conditions: A network perspective. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 32(5), 564–572.

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. 

Minges, K. E., Owen, N., Salmon, J., Chao, A., Dunstan, D. W., & Whittemore, R. (2015). Reducing youth screen time: Qualitative metasynthesis of findings on barriers and facilitators. Health Psychology, 34(4), 381–397.

Stenseng, F., Falch-Madsen, J., & Hygen, B. W. (2021). Are there two types of escapism? Exploring a dualistic model of escapism in digital gaming and online streaming. Psychology of Popular Media10(3), 319–329.

Woody, W. C. (2018). Escapism, control, and the discernment of desires. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 38(2), 116–119.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 3
What are three aspects of escapism? To select and enter your answer go to CEU Test.

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