Can your teen’s TikTok addiction impact your performance at work?
Typically, parents focus on how their behavior could impact their children: and indeed, parenting behaviors do impact how children use the Internet. However, researchers recently found that children’s Internet addiction impacts their parents’ work in turn. ESSEC professor Frank Chan and his colleagues, Viswanath Venkatesh and Tracy Ann Sykes (Sam W. Walton College of Business, University of Arkansas), James Y.L. Thong (School of Business and Management, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology) and Paul Jen-Hwa Hu (David Eccles School of Business, University of Utah) explored the relationship between parenting behaviors, children’s Internet addiction, and parents’ job outcomes in their recent research.
With smartphones in our pockets and screens everywhere we turn, Internet addiction is an increasing problem among adults and children alike. Being addicted to the Internet is about more than spending a lot of time scrolling through social media. There are six key symptoms that arise when a person is addicted to the internet: 1) the Internet dominates how the person thinks and acts; 2) the person feels negatively when he/she can’t use the Internet; 3) using the Internet conflicts with other activities and impairs normal functioning; 4) the person can’t reduce his/her Internet use voluntarily; 5) the person needs to use the Internet more and more to feel a thrill; and 6) the person’s mood changes when he/she uses the Internet, feeling a thrill and sense of relief. It will come as no surprise that this can carry negative consequences for children’s academic performance, social skills and behavior (Jackson, 2008; Young, 2004). Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, many children are also spending more time online than ever for schooling and socializing. How can external forces impact this? And how does children’s Internet addiction impact their family?
The researchers set out to answer these questions by looking at how parenting behaviors impact their children’s Internet use and how children’s Internet use impacts their parents’ work outcomes in turn. They conducted a matched pair survey on 776 pairs of parents and children in Hong Kong (i.e., one parent and one child from each family) to investigate how children's Internet addiction: (a) can be mitigated by parenting behaviors; and (b) may, as a family (parental) stressor, influence parents' work.
Using attachment theory as a framework to look at the link between parenting and children’s Internet use, the researchers proposed that a good parent-child attachment is essential for parenting behaviors to help reduce children's Internet addiction. When there is a poor parent-child attachment, parenting behaviors will not help reduce children's Internet addiction, and may instead worsen the problem. The researchers identified five key parenting behaviors: parental control (establishing rules and restrictions for Internet use), monitoring (overseeing how a child uses the Internet), unstructured time (giving a child free time without scheduled activities or required homework time), dissuasion (discouraging a child from using the Internet), and rationalization (explaining the consequences of overusing the Internet). When the parent-child attachment was strong, parental control, monitoring, and rationalization were effective strategies for reducing the child’s Internet addiction. When the child had a negative view of parent-child attachment, parental control, monitoring, unstructured time, and rationalization could not reduce and may even worsen the addiction. Dissuasion did not have much of an influence, regardless of the parent-child attachment quality. These findings show that addiction doesn’t happen in a vacuum: parents’ relationship with their children and how the parents approach the children’s Internet use play an important role.
To explore how children’s Internet use impacts their parents’ work, the researchers drew from research on the work-family interface, proposing that children's Internet addiction acts as a family problem (stressor) that may distract parents from their work and deplete their resources, increasing stress. They examined the effect of children's Internet addiction on various job outcomes, namely job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and work exhaustion. They used the concept "family-to-work conflict" to explain how children's Internet addiction, as a family stressor, leads to higher family-to-work conflict, meaning that family demands make a person less able to cope with work demands, leading to negative job outcomes. The findings suggest that children's Internet addiction, through increasing family-to-work conflict, leads to lower job satisfaction, lower organizational commitment, and higher work exhaustion for parents.
In addition to the survey data, the researchers interviewed the parents to illustrate the severity of the problem. These quotes demonstrate that parents recognize their behavior has the power to prevent their child’s addiction, and also that this power is contingent upon a good relationship with their child. For example, Parent A uses rationalization with their daughter:
“We have a very good relationship with our daughter. She knows our rules exist for a reason and she respects our rules. This includes rules about the Internet. Without these rules, I think she may be in the newspaper as a poster child for an Internet addict.” whereas Parent B is at their wits’ end and resorts to control: “I don’t know what to do. The more we place restrictions, the more our son uses the Internet. It’s been years since we have been able to talk to him.”
Further, the quotes illustrate the extent to which children’s Internet addiction becomes a serious family problem, a conflict that spills over to the parents’ work: “Every waking minute, I am thinking about my daughter’s Internet use. I want my daughter back. I don’t care if she fails classes if she would stop this 24/7 Internet use.”
“I don’t take on overtime work because if I am not home, my son will be on the computer.”
“It is no wonder I haven’t been promoted in 4 years, I constantly think about my son’s Internet addiction and my husband and I take turns getting home early to monitor our son.”
Taken together, these findings and quotes provide a sobering insight into how parenting can impact children’s Internet addiction, and how this addiction causes conflict in the family and eventually at work. As the Internet is a relatively new invention, its consequences are still emerging, with the first “Internet generation” growing up before our eyes. This makes it essential to understand that Internet use can devolve into addiction, and that parents play a crucial role in how their children interact with the web. The findings also highlight the fact that what happens in the family does not stay in the family: a family stressor like children’s Internet addiction can have negative repercussions for parents’ work.
What can working parents do to promote healthy Internet habits? Here are some suggestions:
Establish open communication and mutual understanding with your child about healthy Internet habits.
Rationalization can be an effective way to curb a child’s excessive use of the Internet. Explain the consequences of Internet addiction to your child in friendly terms.
Trying to dissuade your child from using the Internet is not an effective solution, and indeed can be futile given that children now need to use the Internet for their education.
Acknowledge that this can be a real problem for your family that can impact your work.
How can society in general support child well-being?
Service providers can offer features that help parents, such as requiring parental consent when a child signs up for a service and providing online tracking features, for example, for tracking a child’s progress in learning activities on an educational website.
Organizations should design policies that help employees manage their work and family lives. While organizations cannot directly influence employees’ children, they can help their employees by establishing a positive, supportive work environment and promoting employee well-being.
Jackson L. A. 2008. “Adolescents and the Internet,” in The Changing Portrayal of Adolescents in the Media Since 1950, P. Jamieson and D. Romer (eds.), New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 377-411.
Venkatesh, V., Sykes, T., Chan, F. K., Thong, J. Y., & Hu, P. J. (2019). Children's Internet addiction, family-to-work conflict, and job outcomes: a study of parent-child dyads. MIS Quarterly, 43(3), 903-927.
Young, K. S. 2004. “Internet Addiction: A New Clinical Phenomenon and Its Consequences,” American Behavioral Scientist (48:4), pp. 402-415.