Supporting Your Child in their Internet Use

Technology can be used to enrich our lives and in many ways we cannot remove ourselves entirely; however, for many children in particular, cultivating healthy boundaries and limits to our technology use at an early age can help prevent the development of process addiction.  

What is a Process Addiction?

A process addiction is the compulsion to continually engage in an activity or behavior despite the negative impact on the person’s ability to remain mentally and/or physically healthy and functional in the home and community. Many of us associate addiction with substance use, however, other types, such as behavioral or process addictions can also be detrimental to individuals. 

The internet has increased the risk of young people developing a process addiction, including gambling, screen dependency, pornography, and video games. Many of us spend much of our days on screens, and the coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated this issue. Process addiction is more common than public perception would have us believe: 1 in 8 Americans struggle with a form of internet addiction. 

Here at Recovery Café, we aim to increase public awareness and decrease the stigma around all types of addiction. This collection of research, prevention strategies, and treatment supports, while not all encompassing, can be a good starting place for opening the conversations with your family.

  • Screen Time: Screen time addiction is a resulting negative impact on our lives from overusing technology. Uninterrupted scrolling, TV time, and mindless app hopping in a way that is dependent and problematic for the development of other necessary skills such as time management, socialization, and physical activity.
  • Internet Gambling: Gambling addiction, also called problem gambling or gambling disorder, is an addiction that refers to any and all types of gambling that endanger or compromise a person’s life, job, or family. Online games or casinos have made gambling more accessible, especially to younger people who are no longer hindered by a legal age restriction at a brick-and-mortar location. Gambling can take the form of poker games, betting on sports, redeeming a lottery ticket, going to an online casino, and more.
  • Online Gaming: Although online games have been around for a long time, current users are increasingly faced with games that are designed to be complex, detailed, and compelling enough to keep users playing at higher rates. These addictive qualities, or “hooks,” that work to keep users engaged include role-playing components or relationship building with other players that create an emotional attachment and challenges such as high scores or levels.
  • Pornography: Porn addiction, a subsect of sex addiction, is an addiction to viewing pornography that interferes with their life and personal development. Online pornography isn’t just an addiction problem but a cultural problem as well. Sexually explicit material that was once hard to find is now a mouse click away. We are inundated with spam, pop ups, and ads that blatantly advertise adult websites, and it is so ubiquitous that we can easily bump into it, even when we aren’t even looking for it or don’t necessarily want it. Kids who are beginning to explore their sexuality are often drawn into the new sensations of puberty and the taboo, yet have not learned how to set appropriate boundaries. This is closely connected with the rise of online chatrooms and sexting.

How do you know if your child is in need of support?

A great starting place is opening a conversation with your child–a nonjudgmental one at that. Kids are used to hearing adults lament the problems with the modern world and yearn for the “good ol’ days” of reduced technology. They receive this message constantly and may feel that adults don’t recognize all of the benefits technology brings them. 

As parents, we also want to acknowledge the benefits of technology for keeping kids engaged and distracted while other things get done! There are many guilt-shaming messages about technology use that don’t account for parenting realities. We are not here to say that you should never hand your kid an iPad when you are trying to take an important work call or preparing dinner; we are encouraging parents to be more cognizant of what constantly handing children technology means for their development and future relationships with technology. 

A first step is taking an inventory of your child’s online usage, such as the IMPROVE Tool.


I: take an Internet inventory – Detail when, how long, and what activities

M: monitor usage over time – Observe behavior over 2-3 months because it can change rapidly

P: parenting factors – Self-reflection by parents; lax/hands-off and helicopter are both bad options 

R: real-world activities – Try to encourage offline activities such as sports 

O: other mental health problems – Note underlying or pre-existing health conditions or disorders

V: vulnerability factors – Factors such as bullying, low self-esteem, family stress, and dysfunction can drive one to internet use to escape or numb these other factors

E: extra assistance needed / educational impact 

After the other steps, it should be clear how much help is needed. Consider enlisting professionals, school counselors, or further treatment 

It is also helpful to reflect on the Three C’s of Screentime, developed by Lisa Guernsey: Content, Context, and (Your) Child. Is your child playing video games after school to relax and blow off some steam? Are they playing games that support their education? Are they engaging with friends and peers online or solo? Are they hiding their screen usage or engaging in behaviors they think you’d disapprove of? There is no objective good or bad answer, it will depend on your child and your family dynamic. 

Additional Screening Tools

  1. Self Assessments (see doc)
    1. Identify if this is an addiction or too much time online?
    2. Net Addictions Quizzes for Internet Addiction (x)
    3. Parent-Child Internet Addiction Index (PCIAI)
      1. Internet Process Addiction Test (IPAT) (x)

Brief Internet Game Screen for Parents (BIGS-P) (x)

Tools for supporting your child

The best place to start is by having open and honest conversations with your child. While as parents we want to guide our children towards success and teach them life skills, hyper controlling their lives is not healthy or effective — this needs to be a collaborative effort and storming in to take a game or phone is not going to build goodwill. 

With this in mind, here are some tips and tools for supporting your child 

  • Establish good practices early. 
    • 0-3 No Screens
    • 3-6 1 hr/day
    • 6-9 Supervised used
    • 9-12 Responsible Use
    • 12-18 Independence

Implement technology policies before giving your child access. Established by Kimberly Young, this rough template suggests how much screen time to allow at different age brackets. It is so much easier to loosen rules than to tighten them. Establishing no TV until after homework or a phone curfew is less of a blow if your child hasn’t gotten used to having free reign.

  • Use Technology to your benefit. Phones, TVs, and Computers have ways for you to support your child’s development as they learn healthy boundaries with technology. Read up and become aware of the tools you may not know you have at your disposal.
    • Phone
      • Screentime: iPhone and Android users have the ‘Screen Time’ function on their phone where time limits can be set on specific apps and set content restrictions
      • Self Control (x):: macOS download
      • Gambling (x): “Gambling Therapy” on Android, iOS 
    • Computer
      • Freedom (x): app and website blocker for Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, and Chrome
      • Self Control (x): macOS download
      • Stay Focused (x): Google Chrome extension 
      • LeechBlock (x): Firefox extension 
    • TV
      • Setting parental controls on the TV and devices that young children have access to. 
  • Focus on habits around homework
    • Many of us are familiar with the call for ‘5 more minutes!’ Teaching your child to finish their responsibilities first before using technology helps show balance. Connecting with the schools to work with counselors and teachers can also be beneficial to creating continuity in your plan for support. 
  • Explain realities and take away the taboo
    • Gambling: convey your expectations about gambling to your kids, discuss differences between chance- and skill-based games, consider not gifting lottery tickets
    • Pornography: your child is likely embarrassed to talk about it and may not really understand what they are viewing. Taking away the mystery around sex and pornography can lessen the appeal
  • Encourage offline, real-world activities such as sports, time with friends
    • In contrast to what was said above, we don’t want to condition our kids to see screens as a prize and anything else as a boring obligation. Focus on the quality of time spent off-screen, not the quantity. Make non-technology related activities fun! 
    • Seattle outdoor programs for kids (x)
  • Make it a family conversation on your household practices. It can feel hypocritical that you can’t play video games after school when Mom is checking work emails on her phone at dinner. Our kids watch and learn from our behaviors. ‘Listen to what I say, not what I do’ has rarely been an effective adage. Having open conversations, balance addressing addictive behaviors with finding alternatives for the whole family.

Where can I learn more?