How Career Concerns Influence Internet Addiction in Teens

Richard sits down in the chair, nervous as he begins to talk. He did not complete his homework assignment, again, which was to make a list of careers he would find interesting. Richard is 18, just graduated high school, and has no idea what to do for the future. He talks about things he likes, such as playing video games and chatting with people online, but does not know what would interest him for a career. Richard’s only idea is to become a YouTube star and play games for a living. His parents want him to go to college and get a real job, but this seems like pointless work. For Richard, work should be about what makes you happy, and because he likes to play video games, why cannot this be a job?

Richard discusses getting a job within the gaming industry and begins to list jobs that interest him. While he has some ideas, Richard is afraid he may not be good enough to become successful, and that he may make the wrong career choice. Richard’s fear is picking a career he would not like or be good at and then feeling stuck. Richard goes back to being a YouTube star and says he could be successful if his parents only understood his drive. Over the next few weeks, he breaks down the tasks needed to be a successful YouTube star and realizes it is much more than playing video games. He would need to become a good writer, an excellent marketer, and a masterful comedian. Richard becomes discouraged and decides to do what he does best, play games 10-14 hours a day.

Richard refuses to make a choice and says there are too many options, and he is not good enough for anything but playing games. As summer comes to an end, he has not enrolled in college and instead works part-time, with most of his days playing video games. Fear has crippled Richard, and over the next year, he works to overcome his fears of the future and slowly, over time, begins to determine his purpose.

The above is a fictional account of what I often experience in treating teens and young adults who are addicted to the Internet. I have found most do not have clear goals for the future and live in fear. I have found career concerns have influenced addiction in many of my clients, as the Internet is a coping skill to deal with the stress.

Negative Self Image

Many of the teenagers I have worked with who are Internet addicts have a low opinion of themselves. Due to their addiction, most did not do well in school and barely graduated. As a result, their grades are poor, and they are often limited to community colleges. Their parents have talked about college for years, expecting them to go. Due to poor grades in high school, many are unsure if they would be successful in college and become fearful. Most either fail their first year of college or do not enroll.

A negative self-image is part of the problem. Due to setbacks and failures of the past, they believe they cannot be successful, and they will eventually fail. Positive accomplishments are filtered or minimized, often replaced with statements such as, “I could have done better,” or, “everyone can do that.” This negativity about themselves stops them from trying new experiences and taking risks.

In therapy, I work on how they view themselves and focus on their strengths. Most are smart and could do well if motivated. By focusing on the positives, over time, they begin to see they have worth. Building a positive self-image allows them to changes their beliefs about themselves. Fixing a negative self-image is not something that happens quickly. It will take years of work to them to become more realistic about themselves. Over this period they can begin to take classes and get their lives back on track.

Too Many Choices

The amount or majors and careers students have to choose from today are staggering. With hundreds of options and thousands of schools, the ability to choose can become overwhelming. The creation of the Internet has created hundreds of careers that did not exist 25 years ago. For someone who does not know what they want for their future, the amount of choice can cause them anxiety.

Most of my Internet addicts have expressed this as a problem. As there are so many options, it takes time to filter these down to determine what is interesting. As most addicts spend their free time within their addiction, they have not taken the time needed to research their options.

In therapy I often have my Clients make lists of careers they find interesting. In discussing these careers, the Client begins to think of the future, while learning more about their interests. Once they have a list of five or so careers, I have them research the requirements for the careers as well as the benefits.

I often ask them to answer the following questions: how much education will be required? How many years will this take? What will be the cost of obtaining the degrees or licenses needed? Can these degrees or licenses be obtained locally, or will relocation be needed? What does the job market look like for these degrees, especially future projections? How much money will you make once you begin work, and what is the average salary? Will student loans be needed, and if so, will you make enough money starting out to pay them back?

While these are simple questions, most have never thought about them. By doing this research, they come to see picking a career is a difficult task. Anxiety is often present, and their response is often to retreat into gaming, so they do not have to face their fears. Sometimes it takes months just for them to answer these questions. Most are also fearful of the future and fear the economy will be difficult for them.

Economic Fears

Most of my Internet addicts have expressed concerns about the economy and what it will hold once they enter the workforce. With or doom and gloom news, it is common for Clients to be concerned for the future. With the insane costs of college and student loans, most do not want to think about how they would even pay for college. Fears about the economy add to their list of reasons why it is better to retreat into gaming instead of focusing on the future.

In truth, the future is frightening. I cannot imagine how most will be able to pay back 100,000+ student loan debt. With many universities costing over 30,000 a year options are limited. This is why research is needed to determine if it is even worth entering into a profession if student loan debt will be excessive.

Beyond student loans, the consistent talk of a recession, especially with the collapse of oil, has caused fear. Many of my Clients do not want to leave home and become independent as they do not think they would be able to make it, even with a degree and a career. This fear becomes an excuse for their addiction, and over time will be a justification.

How to Overcome Career Concerns

What is the blueprint, then, for overcoming career concerns while addicted to the Internet? The first step is to acknowledge the problem. Teenagers need to understand they cannot sit at home and play games the rest of their lives. Parents need to step in and encourage their children and talk with them instead of barking orders. Discussing the fears present can help reduce the anxiety over them. Having fear is ok, but letting this fear stop them from trying is not.

Next, begin to make a list of strengths that are valued in the job market. These strengths will be useful in choosing a career. This step will be difficult as we often do not think about our strengths. Understanding our strengths is not pride, it is truth. Be honest with this list and do not be ashamed of making it.

Researching into careers is the next step, which will take time and energy. Spending an hour a day in this research for a couple of weeks should yield results.  Researching at least five different careers is recommended as it will give you more choices.

Finally, begin to make a choice as to the career that would fit best. This choice can be changed later especially if college is required, as the first two years are often general requirements. Enroll in college and begin to take some classes. Start small, 2-3 classes, then increase as confidence builds. How long it takes to graduate does not matter as long as you do. Talk to professors or other professionals in the career you are interested in, to get a better understanding.

In Conclusion

Fearing the future is common, as we all have done it at some point. Our teenagers have much to fear we did not 20 years ago. While the future at times can look bleak, we cannot use it as an excuse not to try. If your child is an internet addict, talk with them on a real level about these fears and encourage them to begin to look at the future. Discuss their strengths and what they can bring to the workforce. Help them research careers and give them motivation. However, make sure you let them do most of the work, as they cannot depend on you to fix their problems. Over time many will begin to dig them out of the addiction. Seeing a therapist who works with career issues and internet addiction would help in this process. Over time, career concerns will fade as they have begun a path towards their future.

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Nathan Driskell

Hello, my name is Nathan Driskell and I am a Licensed Professional Counselor – Supervisor in the Houston / Cypress area specializing in the treatment of Internet Addiction & Asperger’s / Autism. I work with children, adolescents, adults, couples & families.

You can reach me at my website or call me directly at 832-559-3520 if you have any questions. Thank You!
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