Does My Kid Have an Internet Addiction? (How to Know)
Is Internet Addiction Real?
The May 2013 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) was the first to include Internet gaming disorder in its research appendix . This means that it is not an “official” disorder in the DSM, but one on which the American Psychiatric Association requests additional research. This change in the DSM likely points toward a growing recognition in the medical community that Internet addiction is real.
Similarly, in December 2017, the World Health Organization included gaming disorder in its most recent draft list recognized diseases, which is scheduled to be released this year. For someone to have the disorder, they must continue to game despite negative consequences. This recognition is important, because it may pave the way for more easily accessible treatment options, including possible medical insurance coverage.
Internet Addiction Disorder – Is That a Thing?
[The following section is excerpted from our popular post: Screen Time and Kids: 5 Recommendations]
Dr. Victoria Dunckley is a child psychiatrist who is connecting the dots between the massive increase in childhood bipolar disorder and ADHD, and fast-paced screens.
She found that visits for kids diagnosed with pediatric bipolar disorder had increased 40-fold from 1994 to 2003; that between 1980 and 2007 the diagnosis of ADHD had increased by nearly 800 percent .
She started to ask the question, “is this simply due to advances in diagnosis or something else?”
Eventually, Dr. Dunckley started using the label electronic screen disorder (ESS) to describe the reason for the enormous increase in attention- and mood-related diagnoses in children. She theorized that ESS was disrupting the formation of a child’s attention template. Templates are simply patterns of thinking that are established during our formative years.
But, because it’s unethical to test her theory on children by feeding them copious levels of screen time, she’s relying on the old principle in medicine that if the cure works, you probably have the disease.
By removing screens through a prescription of tech fasting from over 500 kids that have visited her practice with varying levels of psychiatric disorders, Dr. Dunckley has found a reduction in symptoms in 80% of her patients. 
In 2008, China became the first country to declare internet addiction a clinical disorder. According to Glow Kids, China has identified Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) as its number one health crisis, with more than 20 million Internet-addicted teens, and South Korea has opened 400 tech addiction rehab facilities and given every student, teacher, and parent a handbook warning them of the potential dangers of screens and technology.
An Assessment for Internet Addiction
According to the DSM-5, five of the following criteria must be met within one year for someone to qualify as having an internet addiction issue.
- Preoccupation or obsession with Internet apps.
- Withdrawal symptoms when not using Internet apps (anxiety, anger, lack of focus).
- A build-up of tolerance–more and more time needs to be spent using the apps.
- The child has tried to stop or curb playing Internet games or using the apps, but has failed to do so.
- The child has had a loss of interest in other life activities, such as hobbies.
- A child has had continued overuse of Internet games even with the knowledge of how much they impact their life.
- The child lied to others about his or her Internet usage.
- The child uses Internet activity to relieve anxiety or guilt–it’s a way to escape.
- The child has lost or put at risk an opportunity or relationship because of Internet activity.
Does your child fit these criteria? The second one in the list, “Withdrawal symptoms,” is one that I often use when parents ask me, “Chris, how much screen time is too much?” My response is, “if you take it away, and it creates an emotional response, then however much time they currently spend on devices is too much. Removal of digital screens should not create an emotional response. Or, that’s a problem.”