While your kids eat lunch, you’re checking your email. You let them watch TV so that you can chat on your favorite message boards. When everyone else goes to bed, you’re checking your Twitter account to see if you have any new followers. Does any of this sound familiar? If you’re starting to cut short your “real life” experiences because of time you’re spending online, you may suffer from a form of addiction to the Internet.
Although it’s a somewhat recent phenomenon, it appears to be a growing addiction and moms are particularly susceptible, say experts. Many moms who stay at home tend to feel isolated, and whereas in the past they might have had to go out more and meet other moms, now they can just go online to one of many Internet communities or discussion boards where they can connect and share experiences. Plus there’s the distraction of Facebook, where you can connect with old friends or just play games with your buddies; any blogs you may write, where you connect with other bloggers and readers; Twitter, where you can make and find new friends with similar interests; Second Life, where you can adopt an entirely new persona; and any number of other online outlets for connecting with others.
Then there’s the fact that as a parent, you are faced with countless questions during the day (“How long can milk stay out of the refrigerator before you throw it out?” “How do you make sweet potato French fries?” “How do you treat a sprained ankle?”) for which it’s easier to look online than to go through a book or call someone. And if you get hung up on a parenting issue (“How do I teach my baby to go to sleep?”) you could spend days getting lost in countless articles, advice columns, and discussion boards without ever getting to a “real-life” resolution.
If you suspect that you might have a problem with Internet addiction, experts recommend that you keep a journal for a week of how much time you spend online and what you do with that time (Googling answers to questions? Chatting with friends? Tweeting about what you had for lunch?). You should also step back and assess whether you are really living “in the moment” when it’s time to be with your kids, your partner, or your family and friends (or are you obsessively checking your email and your Facebook feed during dinner?). If you can honestly say that your time online is contained and you are not jeopardizing any real-life relationships, you should be in good shape. But if you have to acknowledge that you’re spending too much time online, it’s time to take the next step.
You can start by setting strict time limits that you spend online. Some moms go with the old standby, a kitchen timer, but if you can’t trust yourself to end your time when the alarm goes off, you can try software like ComputerTime that limits your time on the computer. Another strategy is to shut your computer down entirely when the kids come home from school so that you’re not tempted to do a quick email check while they’re eating their snacks. Phones can be a big culprit too. If you find yourself spending too much time doing email or Internet on your phone, you need to resolve to use it only for phone calls and save the Internet work for your designated computer time.
Next you need to assess where you’re spending the most time, and cut it back or go cold turkey. Too much time on Facebook? You might find it even more satisfying to check in on old friends once a week instead of once every 20 minutes. Too much time in chat rooms? Resolve to set up a date with a friend or a series of playdates instead. Too much time on Second Life? You might need to cut yourself off entirely.
If you find that you’ve become so addicted that you can’t stop when you want to, it’s time to look for outside help. While some experts have resisted identifying Internet addiction as an official clinical disorder, almost all agree that the behavior is a sign of underlying issues such as depression, anxiety, or compulsion. You may find additional resources from your doctor, through local counseling centers, or online (yes, we see the irony) at the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery. And if you do need help, promise yourself that you will get it. When your kids are young, they need you to be there for them – and your reward is that you get to see all of the amazing things they are doing and learning. So resolve to live in the moment, and enjoy all that (real) life has to offer.