Monthly Archives: July 2013

A Smartphone Can Connect to Internet Addiction

For many of us it’s fair to say that we compulsively check our smartphones. This compulsion grows the more we use and fuels that urge to instinctually monitor it.

In the waiting room of a doctor’s office. On the bus on our way to work. Laying in bed before falling asleep. Even while at dinner with family or friends. Our smartphones have literally become an extension of ourselves, another limb if you will. Smartphone and Internet Addiction - wilderness therapy programAs many individuals who lost limbs can contest to sensations of ghost pain or the belief that their limb is still present, we cling or grab to our smartphone in fear that we will lose it or for the comfort that it is still with us.

The new trend in our society is sitting with friends at a restaurant, their presence and company is no longer enough. Groups of individuals sitting across from one another do not converse, they peruse their smartphones to find much more engaging stimuli or to discover what other individuals are participating in.

Checking our phone, email, Facebook or Twitter has become almost as natural as breathing. In a recent study, it has been found that 70% of users say they check their smartphones within an hour of getting up, 51% say they check continuously while on vacation, and 44% say they would experience a great deal of anxiety if they lost their phone and couldn’t replace it for a week. It’s apparent many of our habits and social eccentricities have changed since the arrival of the smartphone.

Are you a smartphone addict?

Here are a few indicators that you’re addicted to your smartphone:

  • You can’t go five minutes without checking your email or social networking account.
  • You have more than five email accounts.
  • You respond to messages in the middle of the night.
  • When your inbox says, “No new messages,” you refresh your account just to make sure.
  • Checking email constantly provides you validation that you’re “Always on top of things.”

Managing your smartphone use

We understand for some occupations and individuals that giving up your smartphone all together would spell disaster or would be simply ridiculous. Here are a few steps to help control your usage:

  • Be conscious of the situations and emotions that spark you to use your smartphone. Is it boredom? Loneliness? Anxiety? Insecurity?
  • Be strong when your phone alerts you. You don’t always have to answer it.
  • Be disciplined about not using your device in certain situations (such as when you’re with children, driving, or in a meeting) or at certain hours ( for instance, between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.).
  • Be independent with how you interact with your smartphone. Go out for a walk or spend time in nature without the company of your device.

Smartphone addiction in teens and young adults

One of the fastest and largest groups to become addicted to their mobile devices are teens and young adults. They spend much of their time on social networking sites, messaging one another and finding themselves easily bored in certain situations. Much of this exposure and time spent on a smartphone can lead to them having an internet addiction.

A successful way to manage and control this behavior is with a wilderness therapy program. Nature can often provide the best remedies and open an individual’s eyes to what is true, real, and necessary.

At a wilderness therapy program, teens and young adults learn to be more independent and self-aware, qualities of themselves they may not have been able to notice and achieve without the distraction of a mobile device constantly in their face. Smartphones and Internet usage are kept to a minimum, allowing students to focus on themselves. At Pacific Quest, individual and group therapy sessions help teens and young adults unearth and understand those feelings and emotions that drive them to use their smartphone in an unhealthy manner.

Take a moment and listen, no it’s not your phone alerting you, it’s nature and your life calling. Answer, text or message. Regain your life and independence back, and make a different kind of connection.

Social Networking- Meet Internet Addiction

I wonder what Douglas Engelbart would think about our nation of teens and adults alike, who have become obsessed with, and even addicted to, social networking. Engelbart was the inventor of the computer mouse who passed away on July 2 at age 88. His visionary computer scientist’s work in the 1950’s and 60’s was so prescient and influential in so many ways; In an era when interacting with computers involved feeding punch cards into a mainframe and most of the people doing the interacting were scientists alone, Engelbart saw computers as a way for ordinary human beings to augment their intellect. Then he set about building the necessary tools to make that not JUST possible, but easy.

In 1959 at The Stanford Research Institute, he spearheaded groundbreaking work on graphical user interfaces, hypertext, video-conferencing, networking and other fundamentals of personal computing that were later to be commercialized in Silicone Valley and elsewhere.

Hmmm, so, computers augmenting our intellect hunh? Well, in April 2009, Oprah Winfrey finally logged on to Twitter, she sent her first “tweet,” taking online social Internet addiction & social networkingnetworking out of the hands of the computer-savvy and into the living rooms of every American. And these days it seems like everyone and their grandma has a Facebook page, Twitter account or LinkedIn profile. However, teens and adolescents especially seem to be logging on every day, obsessively updating their profiles and checking the status updates of their online friends. Sure it’s a fun way to pass the time and stay in touch, but can these sites be dangerous for possible addiction? Can we become addicted to social networking?

Social networking is not a new concept, it’s been around as long as we have. A “social network” means simply the structure of relationships among individuals. Isn’t everyone on the planet is part of one big social network?  But we also belong to smaller, more distinct “sub-networks”. We define these sub-networks by criteria like: our families, friends, jobs, schools, hobbies and more. You have a social network at school, work, even at the dog park by your house. The list goes on and on, and many people in your network may overlap. Actually, our contacts multiply all the time, as we meet new people through the people in your existing networks. Social networking Web sites really just evolved from these face-to-face networks.

Online sites are powerful because they harness the strength of the Internet to manage and map out your relationships. It’s a visual thing and we are visual creatures. You can physically see your network — your friends, your friends’ friends, and so on — and how you connect with all of them. Social networking sites allow people to manage their relationships as well as find new ones. Once you join a social networking site, you may find yourself spending a lot of time there. Is it all in good fun, or can online social networks be addictive? Today’s kids spend a lot – if not too much- of time in front of digital screens. In 2008, the American Journal of Psychiatry published an editorial in support of naming “Internet addiction” as a bona fide mental condition.  Even though it’s not formally classified, many treatment and rehab centers worldwide now offer services for Internet addiction. This includes treatment for cyber porn, online gambling, online affairs and eBay addiction. Of course, these are all behaviors with serious consequences. The hallmark of an addiction is determining/ admitting whether your actions are affecting yourself or others in a negative way.

So, is hanging out on Facebook any different from talking on the phone for hours, or gabbing with your friends over coffee? Experts claim that if you’re spending abnormally large amounts of time doing social networking, you could be damaging your relationships and even your health. It seems that a lack of face-to-face contact can affect you both socially and physically. Significant eventual damage can occur…Depending upon a computer screen for human interaction might undermine the ability to follow social cues or understand body language. Besides, we’re also genetically predisposed to physically benefit from being face-to-face with another human. There’s even an online test you can take to see if the time you spend online might be a problem (which won’t be accurate if you’re addicted to online tests, of course).

Once we’ve had the social networking bite and have had a taste of how all encompassing it becomes, what is it that compels us to keep logging on?

Reason #1: Web sites are a product, and any product pusher wants return customers. When more visitors keep returning to a site, it means more ad revenue… more ad revenue means more money for the company that owns the site.

Reason #2: Programmers design every element on a social networking site to suck you in and keep you coming back. But how do they do this you ask? Sites like Twitter and Facebook offer “status updates” where users can enter a few short phrases about what they’re doing at that very moment. Users may find themselves constantly checking their friends’ updates, or changing their own updates on a regular basis. If you comment on someone else’s photo or update, sites will generate an email to let you know. You can reach out and “poke” a friend, take a quiz or survey and compare the results with your friends or upload a photo of your new puppy doing something cute so everyone can ooh and ahh over him. You reach out to the site and it reaches out to you — keeping you coming back from a few to a few dozen times a day.

Reason #3: With the increasing popularity of wireless devices like the BlackBerry and iPhone, iPad — devices that can move lots of data very quickly — users have access to their social networks 24 hours a day. Most social networking sites have developed applications for your mobile phone, so logging on is always convenient. It’s a quick fix. Social networks also tap into our human desire to stay connected with others. The rush of nostalgia as you connect with your former grade-school classmate on Facebook can be so awesome.

Reason #4: The main reason we find these sites so addictive? Plain old narcissism. Seriously. Teens especially are completely self-obsessed at their stage of development. We broadcast our personalities online whenever we publish a thought, photo, YouTube video or answer one of those “25 Things About Me” memes. We put that information out there so that people will respond and connect to us. Being part of a social network is sort of like having your own “Entourage”.

In 2008, researchers at the University of Georgia studied the correlation between narcissism and Facebook users. It is not surprising that they found the more “friends” and wall posts a user had, the more narcissistic he or she was. They noted that narcissistic people use Facebook in a self-promoting way, rather than in a connective way. It may be an obvious theory, but it also suggests that social networks bring out the narcissist in all of us.

Reason #5: Here’s another quick fix- Social networks are a voyeuristic experience for many users. Following exchanges on Twitter or posts on Facebook and MySpace are akin to eavesdropping on someone else’s conversation- or even watching from a windowed view. It’s entertaining and allows you to feel like a “fly on the wall” in someone else’s life Social networking sites also publicly list your “friends” or “followers” — giving you instant status. How many people do you know online who spend all their time trying to get more friends, more followers, more testimonials? We work hard in real life to elevate our statuses, make friends and search out boosters for our self-esteem. Ummm, Internet social networking provides this to us, and we don’t even have to change out of our sweatpants to get it.

Internet Addictions: A mind without distractions?

Forget about “Reboot”, “Restart”, or “Refresh”…  for many of us, it is seriously time to click on “ Shut Down”! Digital distractions are frying our brains, making focusing on tasks fuzzy, and affecting what most young people don’t realize is a mind-body connection.

Critically acclaimed American novelist and essayist, Jonathan Franzen, who famously wrote much of his book “The Corrections” wearing a blindfold and earplugs to reduce disruptions is quoted as saying “ It’s doubtful that anyone with an Internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction”. Even supposed “casual” Internet users know all too well the distractions of those unsolicited tweets, email pings and hilarious YouTube videos… Browsing the web for school Disconnect from the Internet - Internet Addictionreports, research- even as a social networking guru or video game master – can end up taking up enormous amounts of time from our day, because when we start looking on the Internet for one thing, it’s easy to get lost for 20 minutes or more! It’s part of the far-reaching and addictive quality of the Internet…the hours that seem to some how speed by in the blink of an eye while we become immersed, zombie-like, in the wearisome world-wide-web.

As it turns out, learning how to minimize distractions can dramatically increase our productivity and effectiveness, as well as reduce our stress. Who knew right? Without distractions, we could all get in to a proactive flow, produce high-quality work, and achieve much more during the day.

What researchers call mindfulness training– or becoming more mindful -seems to be about a connection between our minds and our bodies. Recognizing patterns of this connection in daily life, consistent practice, and retraining our brains to block out interruptions and remain focused, has helped many people improve their scores on exams, and improved their “working memory”- our mind’s ability to retain and sort through small pieces of information.

Our brains contain several regions that scientists collectively call the “default network,” which kick into high gear when our minds wander, which they do quite frequently when being targeted by so many distractions. By training our brains to focus on simple sensory cues, it may be possible to decrease activity in the default network. Helping all of our minds to stick to a single task could actually change the face ADHD and ID.

Quick fix?

A quick technique or step in mindfulness retraining is to begin by ditching distractions (whether you’re on the train home from work, at your desk, or having dinner, begin by setting aside anything you may be reading, watching, or listening to). Next, sit upright and try to focus only on your simple sensory perceptions: like your breathing, the sound of rain, or the way your food tastes etc… It’s okay if things pop into your head, but try not to think about them too directly or judgmentally.  Counting your breaths while in this mindset, up to 10 and then starting over at zero, can help to keep your thoughts clear and focused. Doing this for 5 to 10 minutes a day can improve your mind’s ability to stay focused.

In treating Internet addictions, young adults in wilderness therapy programs have the opportunity and undistracted time to gain a firm grasp on emotions by practicing mindfulness- or mind-body relaxation techniques. They can parcel off a portion of a day for quiet, stillness and solitude, calm breathing and deeper mediation work. It is this kind of intentional care that seems to have lasting positive effects on mental health. “Grasping and caring for the health of the mind-body connection is a mainstay of therapy programs for young people. Without the health of the mind, the body suffers. Without the health of the body, the mind suffers. When that connection is made between the two, striving for optimal, whole health is possible.”

More active tips for improving focus and diminishing distractions:

  • Use Special software – There are some amazing new software applications such as Freedom and Anti-Social that can help to eliminate online distractions. You can specify which websites you want to block, and even set a timer for how long you want the block to remain active! Using technology to help you from abusing technology. Genius.
  • Close That Internet Browser – You can eliminate Internet distractions by keeping your browser closed when you’re not using it.  Log out of your accounts if you are a big Facebook or Twitter user- or even a constant email checker!  If you’re forced to take those few extra seconds to log in each time, it may act as a reminder to you that you’re not focusing on work. (As an adjustment to this tip you can allow yourself to only check in at set times of the day – for instance, before lunch and at the end of the day.)
  • Take Little Internet Breaks – Remember that taking little breaks, especially after working for an hour or more in deep concentration, is always useful for resting your mind and rebooting. These tiny breaks allow you to return to focus with renewed energy. Perhaps you can use casual Internet browsing as a reward for every hour that you devote to high quality, focused work. Feeling empowered is much more effective tool in mindful retraining.

Now that you’ve utilized your time (extremely wisely) by reading about Internet addictions and distractions, it is a perfect opportunity for you to turn your computer off, do a little stretch and settle in for some highly effective mindfulness retraining.

Online Does Not Mean Living

If your teen is more interested in spending a beautiful weekend adjusting their Facebook page than spending time with the family outside or having a carefree day with a friend, they may be exhibiting signs of Internet addiction. Teenagers growing up with technology, Internet and smart phones are no longer thought to be naïve to the world of technology. Now they are the individuals parents and adults often refer to for advice and Internet Addiction in teens and young adultsinformation when it comes to new advances and trends in the technological world. This leads many teens clever and slick in hiding their past visits to web sites that can be considered unsavory and inappropriate for their ages. If your teen’s browser history is filled with countless visits to adult-oriented web sites, they may have a case of addiction.

The Internet is a seductive place for anyone looking to escape for a couple minutes, but for some teens this translates to hours. The online world draws teens who are far more likely to write on their friend’s Facebook wall than to make the effort to visit them in person.

There is the problem. The Internet is the perfect place for teens. Through social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, teens have the rare opportunity to control their environment and represent themselves as whomever or whatever they choose. For most teens, middle school and high school years can be the most trying and difficult times. They are ripe with feelings of insecurity and those frustrations of discovering one’s identity. With social networking, teens can present the individual they would like to be or represent. All the material on these sites are edited and filtered through by the teens themselves and presented to the world as a face they want viewers to see. It’s come to the point where if a specific aspect of their lives is undesirable, their photos or their friends, one simple click can take care of that.

Many parents can feel torn by wanting to limit the amount of time their teenager spends online. If a teen is struggling socially, some parents see the Internet as a beneficial source for human interaction. However, there are often better solutions for teens that are struggling.

Teenagers may think that living a full and productive life means a life online. This is not the case. Spending one’s time out in the world and experiencing different activities and adventures can help teens break out from their isolated cocoons.  A wilderness therapy program can be an answer to breaking your teen away from that computer screen or smart phone. Teens at the Pacific Quest wilderness therapy program

When a teenager attends a wilderness therapy program they are placed in a wilderness environment that removes the technological distractions. This allows teens and young adults to focus on themselves and delve into the underlying reasons why they choose the solace of the Internet as opposed to a richer and fuller world that is out there for them.

Nature offers these teens a facet of their lives they may never have experienced before. With only the environment and themselves, students gain independence and a sense of identity. Teens learn to cast away their destructive learned behaviors and habits and begin with a clean slate.

While at the wilderness program, teens learn:

  • To nurture a healthy relationship with family, community, work and purpose
  • About the five pillars of health: nutrition, sleep, movement, breathing and the body/mind connection
  • About their caregiving role and responsibilities
  • To empower themselves with life skills
  • A greater self-awareness and ways of interacting in the world

A wilderness therapy program can be a life-changing agent in a teenager’s life. Pacific Quest helps teens and young adults transition into the next stage of life with a sense of confidence and accomplishment. They are provided with tools to help take on any form of adversity and skills to help them contend with difficulties with struggling times, an aspect of life that cannot be learned from a web site, profile post or tweet.

Internet: The Problem and Addiction Is Everywhere

How do you escape a problem when the culprit is everywhere, literally everywhere? In our hands, our cars, pockets and backpacks, in our refrigerators, restaurants, there’s no turning the corner where its influence cannot and will not find you. The Internet has you.wilderness therapy program for internet addiction

It has only been a few years since the Internet was a luxury and option only enjoyed at a select few locations, often reserved for the comforts of one’s home or the occasional internet cafe. Now, we can quite literally walk, run or drive and it’s with us or, sometimes, follows us. An entire generation of teens are growing up and maturing with the routine and mentality that the Internet is, and has always been, at their beck and call. They’ve grown with it, and has been a staple they’ve come to know. So how does one go about breaking away from the grips of a distracting stimulus? You disconnect from it.

The Signs and Symptoms of Internet Addiction

Before any action can be taken for Internet addiction, the individual suffering must exhibit the signs of an addictive personality. Individuals suffering from Internet addiction tend to exhibit the following traits:

  • Decreased productivity
  • Less socialization
  • Using the Internet as an emotional outlet
  • Losing track of time
  • Being defensive about Internet use
  • Inability to stop
  • Eye strain, backaches, headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome, poor nutrition, or trouble sleeping
  • Using the Internet for inappropriate activities

Disconnect, now!

If your teen or young adult is found to be addicted to the Internet, one of the most positive solutions is a wilderness therapy program. Since the Internet is readily and, almost, always available to everyone, the most common solution of disconnecting can often be the most problematic. Where do you go where the Internet cannot reach or is carefully monitored?

At the Pacific Quest wilderness therapy program the means of fostering the addictive Internet behavior is removed and replaced with activities, experiences and organic gardening that offer teens a better and, sometimes, more honest view of life. Through individual or group therapy sessions,  teens or young adults work with our clinicians to discover why they allow themselves to focus on such addictive behavior. Without computers, televisions, video games, and other distractions they are left with an open environment for them to focus on their lives, mistakes, relationships at home and begin to foster new interests they may never have known of with a screen in front of them.

Without the technological distractions, the teens and young adults attending may finally have a one-on-one experience with nature. Something they never would have known or had available to them being locked in their bedrooms staring at a screen of some kind.

With such a back to basics approach as a wilderness therapy program can offer, teens are released from their destructive constraints and realize that there is more to life than a posted tweet or a high score on a video game.

Tips to Avoid Internet Addiction

Having trouble shutting down your computer? Can’t stop refreshing your Facebook or Twitter streams? Will that video game not let you go? Like any form of entertainment or productivity, the Internet is becoming a compulsion. wilderness therapy program for internet addictionAs human beings, we are compulsively seeking unpredictable payoffs. What do people think of my new photo? What will happen after I conquer this level? We always want to find out and want more.

An entire generation of teens and young adults have grown up with the notion that the Internet can be as simple to access as going to their back pocket or purse. The Internet allows for constant social interaction whether it is Social Media or video games. They are always entertained by its offerings to the point that the “real” world does not seem as engaging or interesting. As a parent, how do you go about steering away your teen from the hooks of Internet addiction?

Here are a few tips and steps to incorporate into your daily life to help avoid the addictive compulsion.

  • Complete your studies. Electronics can get in the way of your teen’s academics. Upon arriving home from school, have your teen focus on their homework or project they have due. They will gain a great sense of relief and accomplishment knowing they’ve finished their homework early. Instead of the all-knowing Wikipedia website, have your teen utilize books or the library for research papers. Teachers will greatly appreciate this.
  • Limit their computer, TV, or video game time. Allot times for your teen’s electronic activities. If they use a laptop or tablet, make sure to put it somewhere they will not see it every day. Encourage them to keep the lid closed on their laptop when not in use; when the computer is not looking at you, you are less likely to use it.
  • Call people instead of sending text messages. It’s too easy for teens to send a text and not have to converse with someone over the phone. Have them call a friend and ask them to do something outside of the house for the day.
  • Plan family nights. One of the simplest manners of minimizing your teen’s Internet usage is planning an activity away from the television, computer or separate, individual activities. Instead eat dinner together, with those electronic distractions off, as a family and plan games for afterward.
  • Realize they have an addiction and that more and more people in the world are becoming addicted to the Internet. Understand that Internet addiction is a very real problem and that your teen is not alone. This addictive behavior is becoming more and more common and well known.

Many families and parents find it difficult to simply disconnect their teen from the Internet. A wilderness therapy program can often be the best solution for this problem. Pacific Quest presents teens the opportunity to engage and interact with nature and our clinicians to help them overcome their underlying need for the Internet.

Our Organic Gardening and Horticultural Therapy allows teens to connect to something that requires their attention and responsibility, rather than a novelty or a tweet. Teens learn the responsibility that comes from working for a goal and that there is more to life than what’s behind a screen.

Symptoms of video game addiction – getting it under control

Can a game truly become an addiction for children and young adults? Experts say absolutely- It’s a clinical impulse control disorder, an addiction in the same sense as compulsive gambling.

Spending a lot of time playing video games doesn’t necessarily qualify as an addiction for children and young adults. The question that needs to be asked is: Can they always control their gaming activity?”

Warning signs/symptoms

Video game addiction signs and symptoms to watch for in children and young adults include, but are not limited to:

  • They are lying about or minimizing time spent playing video games. (Does your child tell you they spent 1 hour playing, but you know they played for 2 hours or more? Perhaps they are even lying about computer or video game use so that computer or video game privileges aren’t taken away. )
  • They exhibit defensive behavior.  (Are you getting an angry reaction or an outright denial when asking your child about their video game playing?)
  • Most of their “free time,” non-school hours are spent on the computer or playing video games. Other parts of their life, like hobbies, schoolwork, friends, or sports can become neglected, because they are devoting more and more time to game play.
  • They are fatigued all the time, perhaps even falling asleep in school.
  • They are hiding feelings. Some kids and teens turn to video games as an escape, to avoid dealing with upsetting emotions, real-life problems and even anxiety, or depression.
  • They are not keeping up with homework and/or not turning in assignments on time.
  • They exhibit worsening irritable, cranky or agitated behavior when not playing video games on TV or the computer.
  • Keeping documentation and logs of when your child plays and for how long, what are the problems that are resulting from gaming and how your child reacts to time limits will help if there is a potential problem and you intend to seek professional help.

Get it under “control “

If you are concerned about the amount of time your child or young adult is playing any kind of video games and the possibility of addiction to video games, take action! Limiting the amount of play should put some balance back into their lives, and make way for other activities and help avoid possible addiction to video games.

However, if attempts to limit game playing are marked anger and increased aggression in your child, it means that there is an addictive quality to their playing and they may actually have an “addiction to video games.”  If this is the Video game addiction in teens and young adultscase, playing needs to be ceased altogether. Because limiting game time, as some people have suggested, to an hour a day lets say, may be comparable to an alcoholic saying they’re only going to drink one beer!

Treatment for video game addiction is similar to detox for other addictions, with one important difference: Computers have become an important part of everyday life. Even in school computers are now used on a daily basis. So just like with a food addiction, for example, children and young adults with a video game addiction must learn to live with it being around them all the time and to be responsible.

As ironic as it may sound, there are actually computer applications available now that can be downloaded and configured to block access to the internet- namely Freedom © and SelfControl ©. This may support initial efforts at gaining control and responsibility.

However, a mere distraction or deterrent to keep your child from being on the Internet won’t be of much help to get over video game addictions. Getting the actual habit out of their system completely is what seems to really matter. Perhaps the biggest key to getting gaming under control is to show gamers they are powerless over their addiction, and then teach them “real-life excitement as opposed to online excitement.”

Some other helpful tips and suggestions for your child may be: Exercise– going for a walk, to the park, to a sports/rec center etc…/ Develop a hobby- learning to play an instrument, paint, sing, dance etc…/ Allocate specific time for using the computer for things other than video games/ Have them use reference books instead of always looking things up on the computer/ Go to bed early.

Parents report amazing results from limiting video game usage or removing it completely for children working through a video game addiction. Freedom from the addiction allows kids to actually start going outside to play, regain interest in their toys, friends, school and to join in family activities. Most importantly, getting these addictions under control allows children their most cherished right- the right to be happy, joyous and free!

Teens getting hooked on Video Games

What are they and why do they effect teens?

Most teenagers can and do play video games without developing an addiction. However, for some teens there is no question that their computer use is unhealthy and excessive by anyone’s standards. For them video games take priority over all other activities, and development in other areas (school, relationships, clubs, sports) are sacrificed just so that more time can be spent in front of the computer or tv screen. It really does not matter if this is called an “addiction” or not.  Teens who continue to play excessively despite experiencing significantvideo game addiction in teens negative consequences in other areas of their lives are likely “hooked” on video games.

Many people have been arguing that teens don’t play video games excessively because video games themselves are unnaturally addictive; Rather that teens probably self-medicate with video games to excess because they have serious emotional problems. Blaming video game addiction on video games themselves, they say, is dangerous – because the real issues and the real problems are allowed to pass through and fester into more dangerous developmental/ emotional problems.

However, more recently, parents and researchers are speaking up: There are numerous studies showing that, for some teens, games have the same effect on their brain as habit-forming drugs; that playing video games floods the player’s brain with dopamine, a mood-regulating hormone that induces pleasurable feelings. Scientists liken this hit of dopamine to that observed following intravenous injections of amphetamine or methylphenidate, a drug used to treat ADHD.

What makes some games SO addictive?

There are several different “hooks” programmed into games that keep players riveted to the virtual action. Not all of them exist in every single game, but the more that are present, the greater the chance of teenaged video game players becoming hooked.

  • Beating the Game. For this hook, the desire to beat the game increases as a player “levels up,” or finds the next hidden clue. To conquer a game, one must spend untold hours navigating increasingly difficult levels. Video games are designed to feed a never-ending and growing appetite for more and more and more… requiring searching every nook and cranny of screen space for hidden bonuses, leading to the second addictive quality etc …
  • Exploration. Some games are entirely about traversing and studying imaginary worlds. That’s a powerful draw made stronger by the inclusion of secret levels, which have been built into video games since the earliest edition of “Super Mario Bros.”
  • Mastery. Video game programmers build feedback into the game (i.e. hand controllers vibrate when your player is “shot”) so that players get visual and physical responses to what they’re doing onscreen. Psychologically, this fuels the learning process, making the player even more eager to ‘master’ elements of the game.
  • The High Score. This is probably the most easily recognizable hook. Of course, beating the high score has been an incentive since the earliest pinball machines and video games I played at the candy store in the 80’s. But video games now are different in that the higher you go, the more difficult the game becomes. Players spend countless hours trying to get a new high score, even if the one they’re besting is their own.
  • Story-Driven & Role-Playing. Everyone wants to know how the story ends, whether it’s a children’s fairy tale or a plot-driven video game. Some games let teens control an onscreen figure, but role-playing games go much deeper by allowing the player to create and become the character in a story. An emotional attachment to the character and the story makes it much harder to stop playing, that is why more and more games are constructed around a foundational story.
  • Discovery. These games hook teens because they involve exploring imaginary worlds. This adventure/thrill of discovery (even of places that don’t really exist) can be extremely compelling.
  • Competition. Boys and girls love the thrill of competition. With multiplayer options, teens can take on both the game and other gamers for “bragging rights”. It seems some committed fans go so far as to schedule activities and sleep patterns to accommodate a network of online partners or opponents.
  • Relationships. Online role-playing games allow teens to build relationships with other players. This online community of peers becomes the place where players are most accepted, which draws them back. The fantasy of role-playing games let teens create personas that are much different from who they are in real life. For example, an overweight, athletically challenged boy can become a muscle-bound superhero in an online world, thus making friends with people who would not normally associate with him. Pressure to keep up with online peers also produces powerful incentives to keep improving.

Popular video games that teens are HOOKING into:

Then there are the MMORPG’s (Massively multiplayer online role-playing games) such as World of Warcraft, Second Life, and Everquest. These are popular because they feature persistent game environments, forms of progression, social interactions within the game, membership in a group, and character customization.

Getting unhooked- go cold turkey?

The psychologically addictive elements of video gaming become even more troublesome when you consider that they affect young people precisely at the time when their developing brains are being hardwired for life. Video games present a source of stimulation: because games provide intense visual & auditory action, they can be very compelling for thrill or excitement seekers (especially those with AD/HD). They also provide negative reinforcement: when game playing provides rapid relief of emotional teen pain or angst, it can become habit-forming.

During teenage years, children are acquiring tastes for what they’ll enjoy in life. So there’s a dampening of the ability to enjoy music, to enjoy art, to enjoy reading, to enjoy all these other things when their video games take precedence over everything.

In moderation, it has been shown that some video games can provide a fun diversion for teens wired to handle them well, particularly if families use multiplayer games to bond with adolescents. It is Important to stress that not every teen who plays video games will have a hard time putting them down, but studies show that as many as one in three gamers will eventually get hooked! Perhaps in those homes, “game over” may be the wisest strategy.