THE BLOG

Confessions of a Teenage Internet Addict

07/02/2013 09:38 am ET | Updated Sep 01, 2013

I used to say I was addicted to the Internet as a joke, like how people would say they were addicted to shopping or the Food Network. I mean sure, I would spend most of my recreational time online, and I was willing to admit that I would often dive into a guilt-ridden binge session in which I acquired copious amounts of knowledge about how to make cake balls or Ryan Gosling's personal life. And yes, I would occasionally log on for a quick browsing session after school and would look up after what felt like a solid 20 minutes to realize that it was 1 a.m. And it was true that I would oftentimes let my homework collect dust while I granted myself "five more minutes" of Internet exploration for the 30th time that night. But that was all normal, and I was totally in control. Besides, Internet addiction isn't an actual disorder, right?

Apparently I was wrong. After a quick Google search of the phrase, I discovered that it was listed in the official mental disorder list, the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders, as a "condition for further study." Besides being mentioned in some fancy psychological publication as something worth investigating, websites touting cures for Internet addiction have popped up across the net. Out of morbid curiosity I decided to take a self-test on a Facebook-blue website that upon both first and second glance appeared to be a joke but was actually completely serious and run by a PhD. The test asked me to rank my tendency towards 20 different behaviors, such as "How often do you prefer the excitement of the Internet to intimacy with your partner?" The website then used a scientifically questionable points system to assess your level of addiction, on a scale of 1-100; I scored a whopping 82 points, slightly above the cutoff point for a little blurb to tell you that "Your Internet usage is causing significant problems in your life."

So what was I going to do with this sudden knowledge of my erroneous ways? Submit myself to an asylum? Mail order all 10 of Dr. Kimberly Young's books on the subject? Bust out $185 for the totally legitimate-looking online Internet psychology course advertised in the sidebar? After extensive consideration on the subject, I decided upon doing nothing. No matter how many people tout it as causing both emotional problems and carpal tunnel syndrome, I refuse to believe that Internet addiction deserves to join the likes of schizophrenia as a full-blown mental illness. Internet addiction is based almost entirely off of a lack of willpower. My desire to browse the Internet is stronger than my desire to turn my computer off and do whatever delightful obligation is presented to me, so of course I stay logged on. It's not a matter of mental weakness -- it's a matter of laziness.

Not being an actual disease doesn't exempt Internet overuse from being a problem. Teens in general, myself included, should still cut back on our Internet usage. Being one of the first generation unaware of a time before commonly accessible technology, it's inevitable that we'll have difficulty surviving without these high-tech creature comforts we have become so accustomed to. Ask the typical teenager what they like to do in their free time and they'll spend a good 20 seconds reminding themselves that Twitter and Netflix are not legitimate hobbies and trying to improvise a less pathetic answer.

The access to any and all forms of entertainment nearly instantly certainly doesn't help our personal development; it is far too easy to adopt the "Why put out actual effort to play the guitar when I could torrent a funny movie and enjoy myself just as much?" attitude that often seems to be a given. But there is hope for our generation: When I began to limit my non-constructive Internet use to just a half-hour a day a few weeks ago, I discovered that I actually did have a lot of hobbies besides mindlessly scrolling through page upon page of Facebook statuses; I learned some practical Spanish, read a few novels, and wrote a few pages of my own. So whatever your level of internet addiction is, consider this a call to action. Log off. Shut your laptop. Go to bed. Go outside. Trust me, the sun feels nice.