Talking Teenage Internet Addiction

by - September 9, 2015

Talking teenage internet addiction - SelfBinding Retrospect by Alanna Rusnak
He sat uncomfortably, chewing the inside of his cheek, eyes shifting between us with a look that bounced from nervous to annoyed to nervous.

"I want you to succeed," I said. "I want to set you up for a great year."


"I'm not so worried about that," his father told him. "You're smart. You're going to do well. We need to talk about addiction."

That's a heavy word to throw at a thirteen-year-old but it didn't shake him. "Okay," he said.

Screens have forever been an issue in our home and we often find ourselves struggling for balance and agreement. Having been raised {mostly} screen-free, I tend towards a stricter target while my husband, Scott - admitted video game lover - is more lenient, even using them as a tool for spending quality time with the kids.

I don't have an issue with video games. Or the internet. Or internet video games.
I do have an issue with allowing something - anything - to control your life.

Zander is a great kid. Crazy smart. Receiver of the award for the boy with the highest average at his Grade 8 Graduation, thank you very much. Brilliant designer of Minecraft kingdoms. Avid supporter of YouTube weirdos.

Hider in his room after lights out - playing games, watching videos, breaking rules, seeing 3 am.

He was honest about his dishonesty. I'm proud of him for that. 

"Do you think you're addicted?" we asked him.

"I don't know."

Because Scott works with troubled youth, he has knowledge of and easy access to all kinds of resources and right there in the middle of our conversation he pulled out a test for internet addiction.

Zander completed it without complaint, blushing over the 'how often do you prefer the excitement of the Internet to intimacy with your partner?' question until we changed 'intimacy with your partner' to 'time with your family'.

His resulting score put him right on the cusp between mildly and moderately addicted.

This is the first validated test for measuring internet addiction BUT I wouldn't scream it from the roof tops as absolute; however, it did open doors for more discussion.

"So how can we help you keep this under control so it doesn't affect your life and your performance?"

"I don't think I can decide that," he said. "I just want to do it."

"Then you'll have to respect whatever limitations we decide," we told him.


Internet addiction is real - perhaps it doesn't deserve a spot on the list of recognized mental illnesses - but it has, in extreme cases, ruined lives and relationships. I don't believe Zander is anywhere close to that point but I do think, if left unchecked, it has potential to develop into something that could jeopardize his future and his overall happiness.

I'm not willing to let that happen.

If it were just up to me, I would have him lock up all devices at a certain time - by removing the temptation you can't be tempted, right? But, if his history in youth work has taught Scott anything, it's that consequence-based lessons don't really teach - it's more positive for everyone if attainable expectations are made clear and the child is trusted to reach them.

This doesn't mean he won't fall. This doesn't mean that I won't poke my head in before I go to bed to check and make sure he's not hiding under his blankets watching Good Mythical Morning. And this doesn't mean there won't be consequences if he does break the rules BUT I think Scott is right--raising a child who knows his parents respect his passions {whether they understand them or not} and trust him to manage his time and limitations maturely is huge for strengthening both his own self-esteem and his relationship with his mom and dad.

One thing we try very hard to maintain is an open line of communication. The first rule in our home is honesty. We want to be sure our children know that all topics are fair game and that we won't shy away from saying {or hearing} the hard things. {This is tough for me, an internal processor, but I'm constantly growing and learning even as my children grow and learn.} We strive to speak into problems, praise good choices, celebrate truth, and work together to find solutions.

Yesterday, I stood at the dining room window, feeling my eyes burn and a sob hitch in my throat as I watched him climb into the bus that would take him away to high school {HIGH SCHOOL!!!?!}  - that baby who cried for six months, who would pat my shoulder while I cried with him, who drew on library books and wrote me love letters with a hundred X's and O's, that baby who even at the dawning of his high school career kissed me before he left the house and said, "love you too." That baby. My baby. And I thought 'I'm doing okay...we're doing okay." 

And we are.

And I'm going to do everything in my momma powers to make sure that beautiful boy becomes a beautiful man.

Photo taken by Stephanie Rusnak

Parenting is tricky. We've been doing it for almost fourteen years now and we still don't have a clue. All I do know is this: a parents whole job is to teach, to try to understand, to love them through it all, and to always always always allow yourself to be taught too.

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  1. This is such a beautiful depiction of great parenting in the tough moments. I admire the way you parent your children.

    1. Thanks :) you're sweet - and not doing too bad yourself!


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