Is there an app for that?

Published 10:14 pm Thursday, June 20, 2013

Sara Shoemaker refuses to play Candy Crush or Fruit Ninja.
The games are available as a phone app and may be on their way to joining the ranks of Angry Birds, Words with Friends and Temple Run as obsessions sweeping the country.
Applications like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter have changed the way people spend their free time. But how much is too much and when is it time to start worrying about the amount of time you spend online?
Shoemaker, a social worker at Vidant Behavioral Health, said the warning signs of an addiction to the Internet are easy to spot.
“Basically, with any addiction, impairment or disruption with life is a warning,” she said. “And if people are starting to say, ‘Hey, you have a problem’ how is it affecting your life?”
Beaufort County mental-health professionals have not seen a plethora of reported Internet addictions. As a social worker, Shoemaker has not seen any cases either, but she said Vidant Behavioral Health has a staff of psychiatrists and counselors competent in treating any addiction or behavior problem.
If parents are concerned with the amount of time adolescents are spending on their smartphones and tablets, Shoemaker said, an evaluation might be a good idea.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be a health professional. It could be someone at school, a preacher or pastor,” she said.
The results may be surprising. This generation has more access to technology, and, when comparing it to previous generations, the amount of Internet use might seem more excessive than it is, noted Shoemaker.
She recommends parents set boundaries if they notice their children are seeing less of their friends, exercising less or letting Internet use disrupt studies.
“Boundaries, balance,” she said. “Just like anything else, moderation is always going to be a key. We don’t need to be indoors all the time. We need to be outside.”
Overuse of the Internet has not officially been accepted as an addiction in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Health, but the DSM has said further study is needed.
Shoemaker said social media has its advantages. With Skype, forums, chat rooms, email and Twitter, the Internet is just as likely to make people more social as it is to interfere with lives.
Even a bit of Candy Crush and Fruit Ninja is OK, if it isn’t disrupting your life, Shoemaker said. But Fruit Ninja won’t be making its way onto her phone anytime soon.
“They want to hook you,” she said. “But you have to engage for it to become addictive. The more access you have, the more likely that will be.”