Internet addiction

While I still haven’t really formed an educated opinion about online addiction, I know a sad, compelling case when I see it. Brandon Crisp, a 15-year-old from Barrie, Ontario, was found dead as a result of chest injuries sustained when he fell out of a tree.

The reason he was in the tree in the first place was because he ran away after an argument with his parents over what they called his “obsession with an Xbox video game”

In an article in Toronto’s Globe and Mail, Crisp’s parents describe their son’s increasing need to play video games. The teen stated he stayed in better touch with his friends this way (instead of visiting them). Then, he pushed his parents to the limit when he skipped school in order to play. As many parents would do, they responded to his truancy by seemingly removing the problem — they took his Xbox away. He responded by running away, which resulted in his death.

We desperately need to better understand the levels of need the internet plays in various people’s lives. And we need to get a grasp on how to treat dependence on this medium. Clearly, in this case, cold turkey was not the answer and resulted in a tragic ending. But, is this case just a fluke, or should we warn parents NOT to limit gaming time if they fear their children are too wrapped up in it, at the expense of other activities? It’s too soon to tell. But, if this case tells us anything, it’s to be watchful for dependence on the internet and possibly work on intervening sooner rather than later.

Unreal and Sad

I’ve been mulling over how to write this post for several weeks now, and am still at a loss for words. A study issued by internet security company McAfee found that about two-thirds of mothers of teens in the United States are just as, or more, concerned about their teenagers online safety as they are about drunk driving and experimenting with drugs.

This is so wrong that I don’t know where to start. Luckily, Larry Magdid did all the work for me, breaking down the actual statistics related to the risks of online predators, drug use, and drunk driving among youth. Of course you know the bottom line: Teens are MUCH more likely to experience harm as a result of drunk driving or drug use than they are by surfing the web, or even visiting MySpace. Yet, somehow, parents are nervous as hell about something that really is quite safe. Being online, while it can have negative consequences, is not nearly as detrimental to a young person’s health as substance use. We can’t say it enough.

This is one of those cases where it is tempting to blame the media — newscasts, To Catch a Predator, talk shows — they all do a great job of scaring the crap out of adults by sensationalizing how “easy” it is for adults to target teens for sexual exploit. But research shows that the teens are smarter than their potential aggressors: as this article states, online sexual predation is extremely rare and teens aren’t really even distressed by the infrequent sexual solicitations that they receive online.

But the issue is more complex than that — in order for parents to buy into this media bias, they have to lack the basic understanding of how the media work and the realities of its impact. Just as I stress the need for schools to integrate internet safety/etiquette/etc. into its curricula, I also feel it is important to reach out to parents who aren’t sure about the true ins and outs of interactive media. While there is no question that parents can be harder to reach than their children, this study demonstrates that their education is just as important if not moreso.

In the meantime, I hope that parents don’t forgo conversations about drunk driving and drug use, replacing them with rehashed versions of the “don’t talk to strangers” speech. Sure, that has it’s place to, but let’s not misplace our concerns of where the dangers really lie.