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

Section 4
Adolescent Screen Time

CEU Question 4 | CEU Test | Table of Contents | Internet
Counselor CEUs, Social Worker CEUs, Psychologist CEs, MFT CEUs

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

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

Internet Time Consumption - 3 Challenges

♦ #1 Unchecked Time Flow
The first challenge is unchecked time flow.  For many addicted clients, time flies immeasurably fast while on the internet.  Clients often log on to the internet for a specific purpose, but after visiting one site, there are usually links to another and then another site.  After a few hours, their time has been eaten up without the client even realizing it. 

Scott, age 15, stated, "One time, I stayed online so long, that I heard the birds singing and could see the sun rising outside my window before I realized it was six a.m. and time to get up.  It's insane!  I can't believe that I have no concept of the passage of time while I'm on that horrible machine." 

I asked Scott, "Why do you think that time goes by so quickly without anyone noticing?"  He stated, "It’s that old saying all over again:  ‘Time flies when you’re having fun.’  I’m having so much fun and I get so distracted that I don’t realize that time hasn’t slowed down for me." 

I stated to Scott, "Yes, that’s part of the reason.  But another reason could be that internet surfing is not separated into definable intervals.  When you watch a movie or read a book, even though it may be an extremely engrossing form of entertainment, the movie ends of its own accord and so does the book.  Likewise, television shows end after an hour or half hour and you can check yourself that way.  However, the internet has no definitive ending.  It’s a universe that constantly transports you to world after world without a break so that you never step back and analyze the time spent.  From now on, when you get on the internet, I want you to set an egg timer for thirty minutes.  When that goes off, you are then to stop whatever internet surfing you’re doing." 

Think of your Scott.   What other ways could he or she pay more attention to the passage of time?

♦ #2 Internet Interference
The second challenge is internet interference.  This occurs when the time spent on the internet begins to affect the time spent on other, more substantial, activities.  This can be most clearly seen in clients who suffer in their grades because of the amount of time they spend on the web. 

Julie, age 13, a straight-A student, found the internet much more appealing than her text books.  After a few weeks of internet usage, it wasn't just the books that were tossed aside.  Julie stated, "I know I have to get my chores done during the day and finish up my homework before bed.  But when I’m on the internet I find myself saying ‘later, later’ about those other things.  I stopped taking my daily runs and exercising the way I used to.  I'm failing at least half of my classes." 

Think of your Julie.  Have you heard similar descriptions from your client?

Technique:  Counting Losses
To help Julie become more aware of the affect the internet has had on her, I asked her to try "Counting Losses."  I asked Julie to specify the many consequences of her daily usage. 

She stated, "I’ve gained weight, I feel more lethargic.  I’m not as happy anymore.  I think that’s because I’m not getting the exercise I wanted.  My mom and dad are angry at me because I spend hundreds of dollars a month on internet bills and I tie up the lines. We live way out in the country, so there’s no way to get cable or DSL.  I keep at them to get me a separate line, but they're worried about the extra money involved in that too." 

I then asked Julie to make a list of the activities that have suffered most and label them "very important," "important," or "not very important."  Her list included the following:
            -- Time with family—very important
            -- Daily Chores—important
            -- Homework— very important
            -- Watching TV—not very important
            -- Time with friends—important
Think of your Julie.  What sacrifices has he or she made in his or her unchecked internet frenzy?  Would "Counting Losses" be a beneficial exercise for him or her?

♦ #3 Denial & Technique:  Tracking your Time
In addition to unchecked time flow and internet interference, the third challenge is denial.  Many internet-addicted clients do not or refuse to realize the extent of their time on the internet.  Heather, age 15, stated, "My parents are always overreacting.  They’ll be like, ‘You’re spending fifty hours a week on that thing.’ And I’m like, there’s no way I can spend that much.  Maybe 15 or 20, but fifty?  Please!" 

I asked Heather to try the "Tracking your Time" exercise the next time she was on the internet.  I gave her a list of questions that split into various topics such as email and chat rooms and asked how much time she spent on each per week.  I asked her to be honest with it and pay attention to the specific categorizations of each question.  The questionnaire proceeded as follows: 

  1. Chat rooms.  How many hours spent per week?  List all the different chat rooms you visit.
  2. Interactive games.  How many hours?  Name the different games you play.
  3. E-mail. How many hours?  Track how many email messages you send and receive each day.
  4. Youtube. How many hours? List the different channels you subscribe to.
  5. Social Media. How many hours?   What apps or sites do you visit?
  6. Other internet usage.  Are there additional applications you’re discovered on the internet?  Name them and similarly total your hours spent per week on each one.

After a week had gone by, Heather returned with a cumulative total of 63 hours spent on the internet in the last week.  I asked her how she felt about this realization.  She stated, "I feel like a loser and such an idiot.  Who spends that much time cooped up in their room?"  By finally coming to grips with her internet usage, Heather could begin to become more receptive to treatment. 

Think of your Heather.  Is he or she in denial about how much time is spent on the internet per week?  Could this exercise help them to come to a better understanding?

In this section, we discussed the challenges of internet time consumption.  These concepts included:  unchecked time flow; internet interference; and denial.

In the next section, we will examine underlying emotional causes that trigger a client’s problematic internet use. 

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.

Domoff, S. E., Harrison, K., Gearhardt, A. N., Gentile, D. A., Lumeng, J. C., & Miller, A. L. (2019). Development and validation of the Problematic Media Use Measure: A parent report measure of screen media “addiction” in children. Psychology of Popular Media Culture8(1), 2–11.

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.

Twenge, J. M., Martin, G. N., & Campbell, W. K. (2018). Decreases in psychological well-being among American adolescents after 2012 and links to screen time during the rise of smartphone technology. Emotion18(6), 765–780.

Xiao, J., Li, D., Jia, J., Wang, Y., Sun, W., & Li, D. (2019). The role of stressful life events and the Big Five personality traits in adolescent trajectories of problematic Internet use. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 33(4), 360–370. 

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 4
What are three concepts related to internet time consumption? To select and enter your answer go to CEU Test.

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