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Moms + Internet = Addiction?

In a fluff piece Parenting magazine recently published (and which was picked up by CNN below), moms are apparently “at risk” for a non-existent mental health concern. How one can be at risk for something that doesn’t exist and that no doctor can diagnose is beyond me. But Rachel Mosteller apparently glosses over that point in suggesting that using the Internet while trying to keep your sanity as a stay-at-home mom can amount to “Internet addiction.”

Look, you have to start getting alarmed:

These moms are contributing to a growing global addiction. There’s a movement among psychiatrists to recognize Internet addiction as an official mental disorder (just like alcohol dependency). And a recent Stanford University national survey found that 14 percent of Internet users find it hard to stay away from it for several days at a time; 9 percent try to hide their “nonessential Internet use” from their loved ones; 8 percent admit they use the Web as a way to escape problems.

That’s right folks… this is a growing global addiction! There’s absolutely zero evidence to support this hyperbole, but it makes for the urgency needed to make the story sound relevant and timely. The next DSM isn’t due out until 2012 (yes, that’s still 3 years away), and if you substituted “cell phone” or “telephone” or even “television” or “watching sports” with “Internet” in the above paragraph, you’d see the ridiculousness of the claims.

In fact, the article relates many stories, including this one:

“When my husband got home from work, I was clingy and dying for someone to talk to. I started to feel like a crazy person. I was becoming depressed without any interaction,” she says.

Desperate, she went online and found the community she needed. “I’d talk to people in chat rooms for hours.” But not about babies or parenting. “I needed to feel like a normal person who could have normal conversations that weren’t about breastfeeding or how many ounces my son gained.” Soon, she was spending as many as eight hours online every day.

Wow, so actually it sounds like going online helps reduce social isolation and improve one’s overall functioning and mood levels. How can this sort of positive behavior be labeled an “addiction?”

How about this scary one?

Online, you can pay bills, order diapers, upload photos, and look up possible causes of your kid’s constipation. In fact, you can almost accomplish too much online.

“Ticking items off a to-do list is intoxicating when you feel like you don’t have much control over other parts of your life,” says Parker

Wow, that is indeed scary! Imagine, a tool that actually lets you socialize with your friends, find emotional support with other moms, and get tons of stuff done throughout the day, all the while still watching your children at home. Any other article might note that these all sound like positives, as long as one isn’t ignoring the children in order to do them.

And if you spend time on the Internet and neglect your child? Well, let’s see, soap operas have been around for how long…? Did we ever have a “Soap Opera Dysfunctional Addiction (SODA)?” And child neglect is indeed a serious problem, but not one you need to blame on any specific technology or distraction, is it?

Well, let’s ask an expert… who just happens to make his living from seeing people who have this non-existent disorder:

“Being a mom of young children can be very solitary,” agrees Jay Parker, cofounder of Internet/Computer Addiction Services in Redmond, Washington. So it’s easy for them to turn online, he explains, to find other parents and create a world there where they are not alone. Once that world is created, it becomes an escape that moms may turn to whenever they’re stressed, lonely, bored, or sad. In addiction, they become dependent on that escape.

So where does one draw the line between being in a positive, prosocial world where you can keep in touch with your friends and family on Facebook and Twitter, and gain emotional support from other moms just like you in support groups, to it suddenly being a dark “escape” that people turn to whenever they feel like — when they’re stressed, lonely or just bored? Well, of course there is no line because this is a completely arbitrary and artificial distinction.

When I was lonely or bored 10 years ago, I picked up the phone (as I imagine many mothers did), and called a friend. So how is that any different than going online and chatting with your friends via email or Twitter? It is, of course, no different, except that if you do too much of the latter, we can now call it an “addiction.”

In a timely bit of luck, Byun and colleagues (2009) just published a “metasynthesis” (a review and analysis) of all the Internet addiction research for the past decade. It was not a positive review:

The analysis showed that previous studies have utilized inconsistent criteria to define Internet addicts, applied recruiting methods that may cause serious sampling bias, and examined data using primarily exploratory rather than confirmatory data analysis techniques to investigate the degree of association rather than causal relationships among variables.

In other words, the research has been characterized by sloppiness by the researchers — sloppiness in definition, sloppiness in subject recruitment, and sloppiness in statistical analyses. This review — not the first to question the validity of the body of research on “Internet addiction” — adds further evidence that the disorder has little chance of making it into the DSM-V in 2012.

Look, I understand a magazine called Parenting needs to try and publish sexy stories to keep their subscribers, but articles like this one continue to push misinformation onto the unsuspecting public. And when CNN republishes such tripe in its “Health” section, it suggests that the story actually has some objective health reporting in it (which it doesn’t).

Indeed, some moms might spend too much time on the Internet. I imagine also that some moms spend too much time watching soaps, or get too involved in their child’s social life or extracurricular activities as well. The key is to not demonize something as positive and helpful as the Internet to most moms. Articles like this make it sound like that if you’re a mom and you spend time online paying bills or clipping coupons, you’re a bad mother.

You’re not — you’re normal. So relax and go twitter this article to your friends!

Read the full article: Why moms are at risk for Internet addiction.

Moms + Internet = Addiction?

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Moms + Internet = Addiction?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 17 Apr 2009)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.