How to Integrate the Internet into Your Anxious Child’s Life

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Banning the Internet from your anxious child’s world would be about as useful as banning breathing. Even if your child doesn’t have access to a connection at home, he or she can easily find one just about anywhere. That means your adolescent or teen is constantly at risk of being exposed to all types of information that can be disturbing or harmful.

Instead of trying to fight against the Internet, Psychology Today contributor and psychologist Carl Pickhardt serves up some tips to help integrate it into your child’s upbringing.

Escape from Reality

One of the first things to realize is exactly why your anxious child may be drawn to the online world. Going online is so alluring because it offers an instant escape from reality. This can be especially enticing for children whose perceived reality is often peppered with anxiety and fear. When compared side-by-side, the online world can likewise offer many things the offline world seemingly does not.

Online vs. Offline

  • Fun vs. Work
  • Fantasy vs. Reality
  • Play vs. School tasks
  • Escape vs. Engagement
  • Excitement vs. Boredom
  • Freedom vs. Restriction
  • Independence vs. Compliance
  • Immediate gratification vs. Waiting for what you want

With all this allure, it’s no wonder children and adults alike often “drop out” of reality to spend copious amounts of time on the Internet. This is compounded by the need for adolescents and teens to assert their independence and keep pushing for the freedom to grow.

Towing the Line

The same way you put travel restrictions on your teen’s use of the car, you can put restrictions on the types of sites they frequent. No porn. No violence. No hate sites. But that doesn’t mean your anxious child won’t still be exposed to such things, things you would have hoped he wouldn’t be exposed to until he’s older and you’ve discussed it first.

Since the online world doesn’t abide by parental timetables, Pickhardt suggests opening the lines of communication from the get-go. Tell your child if he ever runs across information he finds disturbing or doesn’t fully understand, he should definitely come talk to you about it. This can include everything from online porn sites to violence, online gambling arenas to drug references.

Make sure he knows there won’t be any punishment or criticism from you, just parents ready to listen to his impressions, answer questions and offer your own point of view.

Another helpful hint is to keep three questions in mind for every piece of online information you and your child run across.

  • The agenda question: What was the purpose of posting this info?
  • The trust question: Is this info valid and factual?
  • The application question: Should I interact with or put this info to personal use?

Your goal as parents is to teach your anxious child to be a knowledgeable Internet user, someone who chooses online information and activities with care so they can best reap online benefits while avoiding online risk.

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