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Youth and Interactive Media, Games and Social Networks 

© 2012 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

In the past, parents may have worried about their children’s television viewing or time spent chatting on the home phone. Today, parents are overwhelmed with the new media—such as computers, laptops, netbooks, iPads, iPods, cellphones and smartphones—and what young people can easily access through them.


On this page:


We’re all connected

Everyone likes being connected to friends and what’s going on around them. What has changed is the growing number of ways we have of connecting and the easy, instant access we have to people and information globally.

The Internet has become an important part of young people’s lives. Many youth use it for doing school projects; maintaining relationships with friends; playing games; shopping; uploading photos and videos; and downloading music, TV shows and movies. Communicating through technology is a common way that young people interact with their social networks.

Most young people use the new media in ways that enhance their lives

The new media can give young people quick access to information that helps with their schoolwork. It allows them to collaborate with classmates online. It connects them with friends and family. It can be a way of relaxing. The new media also provide young people with more ways to safely experiment—with relationships, clothing and style, independence and other behaviours—and develop their individuality in relation to their family and society.

Some young people could develop problems with the new media

The new media present a problem when they interfere with young people’s ability to do the things that are expected of them, such as attending school regularly, maintaining good grades, participating in family life and engaging in face-to-face friendships.

Important questions to consider are: Where do young people use the new media? What are they doing with it? How much time do they spend using it?

Can you become “addicted” to the media?

Young people (or anyone!) can become overly involved with and feel dependent on being online, playing games, watching YouTube, streaming movies and television shows and accessing social networks. However, excessive use of the new media may not produce physical symptoms in the same way as excessive use of alcohol and other drugs does.

Using the term addiction for these types of activities may cause barriers and stigma issues for those seeking help. More research is needed to understand what drives these behaviours.

  • Place—Do young people use the Internet in a space where parents can monitor their use (for example, in a family room where others can walk by and see what they’re doing)? Or do they use it in a place where others can’t see what they’re doing (for example, in their bedroom or away from home)?
  • Content—Are young people’s technology related activities dangerous? Do they connect with strangers online and then arrange to meet them? Do they post inappropriate pictures of themselves or others? Do they text or talk on cellphones while driving? Do they use the new media to bully others or spread gossip and lies? Are they choosing activities that are appropriate for their age?
  • Time—Do young people use the new media as a tool to accomplish goals (such as doing their homework)? Or are they sleep-deprived from spending too many late-night hours on the computer instead of going to bed? Has the new media become central to their lives? Do they do it to the exclusion of other activities?

Some young people are more likely to develop problems

People live complex lives. Blaming the development of problems on overuse or inappropriate use of the new media can be misleading.

Some young people may use the new media as a way to cope with a mental health problem or other stressors. For example, youth feeling lonely, having a physical disability, being bullied or dealing with family upheaval may escape their problems by immersing themselves in the new media.

Here’s how some mental health problems may lead young people to use the new media in harmful or inappropriate ways:

  • Asperger’s syndrome (a form of autism)—constantly researching a topic because of the need to know everything about it (compared to researching a topic for a school project)
  • Gambling problem—constantly accessing casino and other gambling sites

Teach young people about their “history”

It’s important for young people to understand that anything they post, exchange or buy—and any sites they visit—on the Internet becomes part of their “history.” Even when they delete things, a history remains that others can track.

  • Social anxiety—daily entering role-playing gaming worlds where they pretend they’re someone else (compared to doing this occasionally)
  • Posttraumatic stress—connecting with other people in chats to re-enact the traumatic situation (compared to chatting about lots of different things)
  • Obsessive-compulsive behaviours—constantly using the Internet because of an obsession with a topic or game (compared to playing the game occasionally)
  • Substance use problems—researching ways to use alcohol and other drugs, searching and setting up buys and/or ordering prescription medication online
  • Self-harming behaviours—frequenting online sites where youth share suicidal thoughts and self-harming techniques.

Tips for parents

Adolescence is an important time of experimentation, discovery and growing independence. It’s also a time for taking on more responsibilities.

Parents play an important role in teaching children how to use the new media in safe ways. Here are 10 tips that can help.

  1. Consider how you use the new media. You are modelling behaviours for your children.
  2. Before giving your children access to the new media, talk to them about safe use. Communicate openly and honestly. Discuss possible impacts and dangers of using the Internet and other new media.
  3. Talk to your children about how to integrate the new media into their lives in ways that respect others. For example, some families have “no texting” rules during mealtimes and family events.
  4. Be aware of your children’s Internet activities and what they have access to. Some cellphones, for example, can be portable computers.
  5. Spend time learning about the Internet and video games popular with youth. Participate with your children in these activities. They are more likely to listen to you if they think you know what you’re talking about.
  6. Have your children use a shared computer in an open area of your home where you can monitor what they’re doing.
  7. Help your children lead balanced lives. Set limits around your children’s use of the new media. Encourage them to take part in “offline” activities such as sports, music, drama and in-person get-togethers with friends and family.
  8. Help your children set priorities. For example, doing homework comes before spending time texting or playing video games.
  9. Remember that you own the equipment (e.g., computer, cellphone) your children are using—or you’ve likely given them the money to buy it. If your children are not using these media in ways that you approve, you have the authority to cut off access or control their use in other ways (such as using a secret password to set the administrative rights on your home computer).
  10. If you have seen signs that indicate your child may be developing a problem related to the new media, talk with your child about your concerns. You could also contact a health care professional to get guidance and support for the whole family.

Where to get help

Talk with your children if you have concerns about their use of the new media. This includes listening to what they have to say. If you are still concerned, seek help from a health care professional such as your family doctor.

Here are some services designed for young people that you may also find useful.

  • CAMH Youth Addiction & Concurrent Disorders Service
    416 535-8501 ext. 1730 (dial from outside CAMH)
  • CAMH Advanced Clinical and Educational Services (ACES)
    416 535-8501 ext. 33912
  • Kids Help Phone
    1 800 668-6868
  • Get Game Smart Program
  • Media Smarts, Canada’s Centre for Digital and Media Literacy
  • Mind Your Mind
  • Problem Gambling Institute of Ontario
  • Canadian Centre for Child Protection
  • For more information on addiction and mental health issues, visit

Disponible en français.

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