Dear Dr. Archer,
I have a 13 year old daughter who is completely obsessed and addicted with social media sites, such as Facebook and MySpace. She hardly ever socializes with people outside of the house, and I'm afraid this could cause some psychological problems. She's constantly chatting and texting instead of talking to people in person.
What should I do to get her weaned from this habit? I'm not saying she shouldn't do it at all. I do not want to make her delete her accounts, but I have been tempted. How should I go about correcting this? Should I discipline her such as taking her phone or computer away?
If so, if she exceeds the time limit, what should I do to let her know that it must stop?
You're touching on a problem that is becoming more prevalent with each passing day. Just a decade ago, it was noted that there was indeed an Internet addiction, but with the explosion of sites such as Twitter and especially the heavyweight champ, Facebook, we can now add addiction to social networking sites to the list.
While there's no age limit for such an addiction, it mostly affects teens and young adults. Social media addiction can have devastating consequences, and can directly be attributed to lower grades, poor socialization and unemployment. Although not included in the DSM IV (the psychiatric diagnostic manual- 4th edition) it is now under review to be included in the DSM V.
Something else, LeAnne, is that on these sites, people include very personal information, like name, address, hometown, where they go to school, things they like to do, when they're away from home, when they're home alone..... you get the picture.
And speaking of pictures, many take provocative photos of themselves, inviting anyone and everyone to take a look. The average girl who posts such photos, receives on average about 33,000 views on her site. Pretty scary, considering you don't know who's on the other end looking.
I'm not saying your daughter is doing this, but most parents are unaware of what kids are posting online, whether it's words or photos. Ofcom, the communication watchdog, discovered parents are really clueless as to what their children are doing when they're on the Internet.
A spokesperson for Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre said, "Where children go, sex offenders will follow. The first step is getting parents to acknowledge and understand that risk."
Face it, LeAnne. You're the parent here, and your daughter is only 13. You are the first line of defense and it is your duty to keep track of what your daughter does, both online and offline. You should know everything she is posting on any of her social sites.
You should also set limits and boundaries. Just like anything in life, moderation is the key. So you need to sit down with her, have a talk and come up with a mutually agreeable amount of online time. That’s right get her involved in this.
Make it a decision based on time first, but if she does other things well; likes makes the honor roll or joins a club or attends a sleep over then she can get bonus internet time. Be creative and keep her involved with the process.
Unfortunately, it sounds like her online activity has gone unchecked for a while, so you can expect some rebellious behavior when you try to rein things in. You absolutely need to get her away from the phone and computer, and get her involved with face to face interactions.
Get her involved with a team sport, after school club or a community hobby. Anything where she actually has to look people in the eye and converse in person. Make this a mandatory prerequisite in order to continue to use the computer.
You must also have a monitoring system in place. She has proven she isn't going to give this up on her own, so her computer needs to be in a common area of your home. This allows you to keep an eye on her activity as well as the time she spends online.
Limit her time with the phone, too. If she fights you too much, you can simply disconnect the phone or put a password on the computer. A cell phone and a computer are luxuries and a privilege, not a constitutional right. Treat it as such.
Many teens who use online social sites to such an extent have an underlying issue. Talk with your daughter to see if there's a deeper problem; is she fitting in at school? Is something causing more stress in her world? Is she being bullied?
Stay involved in her life; she's only 13. If she fights you overly much regarding this, feel free to get someone she respects involved such as a teacher, coach, counselor, family friend, relative. If anything serious comes up, don’t be afraid to get a therapist involved.
Once your daughter starts spending less time online and enjoying real personal relationships, things will get easier. Remember, moderation is the key. Online social sites are, themselves, not bad. It's how and how much they're used that can represent a problem.
Just remember, at only 13 years old, she relies on you to be her role model, even though she would never admit this. You're the parent, and the buck stops with you. Good luck!