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My nearly 14 y/o brother doesn't have much social interaction (due to being homeschooled) and to fill his social craving, I noticed several days when I startled him that he has turned to secretly watching Youtube videos and reading other online sources. I was similar when I was his age but my computer had parental controls enabled that eventually led to me being caught and realizing my struggles and eventually setting myself to go down the long path to fixing it. The computer he is using has no such feature turned on at the moment and I am afraid of the possibilities if he finds the internet to be a better friend than his family. While I do not want to betray his trust so I can continue to monitor the situation, I also am very aware of my own problems and how long, the entirety of five years, it took to clean myself up and I want to tell my mom. To this day, I do not have a close relationship with my parents (quite honestly because of the same things) and I do not feel that it would be wise to simply suggest checking on it to them.

This is a difficult issue and after hours of thought I am unable to come up with a path to success. Any ideas would be appreciated.

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  • Since you mention that this kind of activity ins't accepted in your culture, you may want to add a country tag. In the US, this is very common and acceptable behavior. Of course, there are concerns of what teens can come across but finding social interaction online isn't alarming behavior in many cultures.
    – cheshire
    Aug 10, 2018 at 22:14
  • @cheshire I will indeed. I am in the US but my mom has what is in my opinion an irrational fear of the internet so it isn't allowed in our house. (which incidentally also caused the problem of the loneliness to begin with)
    – anonymous
    Aug 10, 2018 at 23:00
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    What culture are you describing? Are you in a particular subculture in the US? Is your mother technophobic or is the culture you live in?
    – Joe
    Aug 11, 2018 at 1:28
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    I'm a bit confused. If internet isn't allowed in your house, why is it in your house? Also, unless you are homeschooled in a remote area, homeschooling often provides more socialization opportunities than regular schooling (I homeschooled my kids. They belonged to two co-ops, had playmates over or went to others houses every day after school (which ended earlier than public or private school), and attended organized sports, etc. They had vast circles of friends. Aug 11, 2018 at 3:29
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    "clean myself up" and "path to success" scream of some weird cult like family. Kid will grow to resent you just as much as your parents, just as you resent them because of this weird brainwashing.
    – user20343
    Aug 14, 2018 at 14:15

4 Answers 4

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I see no evidence that anyone has done anything wrong that needs fixing yet. Going on the internet is not something that requires "cleaning up". Maybe his family should work harder to make sure that their child gets sufficient face-to face socialization with his peers.

But really, he's reading things on the internet. This is not in an of itself a problem.

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    But when you have unrestricted access to the internet as a naive teen, it's easy to drift into things you shouldn't. Watching stuff for fun on youtube isn't exactly acceptable in our culture.
    – anonymous
    Aug 10, 2018 at 21:48
  • so he attempts to sneak around
    – anonymous
    Aug 10, 2018 at 21:48
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    @anonymous are you allowed to be on stack exchange?
    – Prince M
    Aug 14, 2018 at 22:47
  • @anonymous No teen is going to run into stuff they shouldn't see on youtube. Aside from that, younger generations are increasingly connection moreover social media and the internet. Keeping away from those will make him isolated and lonely, especially if he does not feel accepted/ at home in your specific culture. Forcing your culture on him will only have an adverse effect as well.
    – Robin
    Dec 17, 2019 at 13:32
  • @Robin: you can easily run into stuff you shouldn't see on Youtube as a child. As a teenager, it's more debatable. And running into stuff just 1 click away from youtube is far too easy. Not that I'd advocate for control software and the like (there were very crazy things on the internet in the early days), but I think it's a worthy discussion to have with kids.
    – haylem
    Jan 8 at 10:37
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Don't focus on the Internet thing - if take action to reduce your brothers involvement with the Internet, that will just create resentment, and make him even more isolated.

Instead, focus on the loneliness. As far as you can, be a friend to your brother. Introduce him to your friends, create opportunities for him to socialise, encourage others to do the same.

If you need to, and you can do so without damaging relationships, and you think they can help, talk to your parents about your brother's loneliness.

Is there much to gain by involving your parents in your brother's use of the Internet? Doing so could easily damage your relationship with him, and your parents relationship with him, and make him even more lonely.

Once your brother has begun to feel less isolated - and not before - you can take steps to help him see, for himself, that he could be damaging himself by using the internet in certain ways.

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The Internet angle:

As others already implied I don't think the internet thing by itself is a problem. Many teens spend time on YouTube or waste time on the internet. It is not by itself a problem, except that your mother may be upset about it.

1. Is internet harmful?

While there are some potential harms I consider them far less then the potential good of the internet a a whole. Still the big three potential threats to be aware of are:

  • You can find communities that validate one's world view, no matter how insane, or potentially harmful, that world view is.

    It's possible to find communities on the internet that say self-harm is cool, that then Nazis had the right kind of ideas, or that all your worlds problems are due to some race/nationality/sex/whatever and if you just hate and assault them everything would be okay. You can also find communities full of misinformation that will convince you that all scientists, politicians, and news agencies are lying to you and you should do frankly idiotic thing that will hurt you to counter their lies.

    These insane echo chambers can convince people of terrible things and inspire horrible actions because everyone in this community says the insanity is right. To someone looking for an excuse to believe something finding a community that will validate that belief can be tempting, to the point that they start giving more weight to their echo chamber community then to all the people in reality trying to tell them why their belief is wrong or harmful. Luckily it sounds like your brother hasn't fallen prone to any of that insanity. Unluckily if he is being told to keep his ever step on the internet a secret you are unlikely to hear about it until it's too late.

  • Social media, and other things, fostering unrealistic expectations.

    This is the risk that affects younger teens the most. Many people will only put the positive on social media. If you watch them only from their social media pages you think that their world is perfect and amazing, that they go on great adventures, are madly in love, and otherwise lead idyllic lives. Contrasting this unrealistic view social media gives of other's lives is your real life, which is never so rose tinted and perfect. Real life can't compete with the fake lives some live online, and if one compares themselves to that unrealistic view their life can feel a failure by comparison. Social media is basically gaslighting you into thinking your life is suppose to be more perfect then it every really is.

    Most teens suffer some degree due to this. Unfortunately social media exists, they will run into this. You can't just ban social media, it will filter into a teens knowledge regardless. It's generally better to speak with a teen and make sure they realize social media isn't actually representative of real life. Their real life will never be as perfect as some pretend theirs is, and it doesn't need to be. Basically just set more realistic expectations.

    This isn't limited to social media of course. The other most common source for this that I strongly suspect you brother is consuming rather or not you are aware of it, is porn. A 14 year old boy with unfettered internet access is almost certainly viewing it. The biggest harm of porn is that it sets very unrealistic expectations on what sex and sexuality is like and how one should approach it. Sadly since everyone else refuses to even acknowledge a teen may have sexual curiosity much less discuss the subject with them they are unlikely to get a more realistic view from elsewhere leaving porn their only source for setting expectations. But I'll stop myself before I go on a rant about how refusing to discuss anything remotely related to sexuality with teens just sets them up for failure later.

  • Excessive use of it in lieu of human interaction.

    This seems to be what you are concerned of, and yes it can happen. Though I would stress internet is not the only way this can happen, excessive viewing of TV or movies, always reading books or engaging in some other solitary activity can all cause the same amount of harm.

    The real catch here is its only really a problem when it replaces human interaction. Internet use is pretty common in teens, and can seem like an excessive amount. However just because one makes heavy use of something doe not mean their harming themselves. I was an excessive video game player, still am to a lesser extent, and I managed to be quite successful in life and human interaction. It's fine for a non-trivial amount of free time to be dedicated to a hobby, even if that hobby is just watching cat videos online. It's only a problem when it starts replacing human interaction entirely. When one refuses to, or is incapable of, interacting with others at all you have a problem. Being an introvert and simply choosing to spend a non-trivial amount of time with solo activities is not, by itself, a problem. I find be it internet or any number of modern solo activities others tend to be too quick to jump to a presumption of addiction and self harm just because an introvert doesn't want to spend as much time with other people as they do.

    So in short yes this could be a problem if it was really interfering with your brother's social development, but take some time to really consider rather internet access is the real problem.

The point to this being internet by itself is not harmful, the bigget harm is when one gets their definition of what is normal from the internet without regards for reality. It means someone needs to help moderate the view and set more realistic expectations.

2. So should your mother remove the internet?

The dangers of the internet can make one wish they could just banish it entirely, but I never recommend that. For starters you really can't, it's just too readily available. From phones or tablets, home computers, schools & libraries, and friends houses; it's just too ubiquities to block. It's also super useful for many things as well. Cars are dangerous to drive, but we still drive them because whatever their danger their benefit is greater, and I view the internet in much the same way. As for internet monitoring tools like you mentioned, they rarely work since they tend to be pretty easy to subvert and kids are heavily motivated to do so. All they do is teach your kid to be more creative in getting around them.

Furthermore teens grow up. They will at some point need to use the internet in their college and adult life. If they are sheltered from something this ubiquities for all their childhood that just means they will have to figure it out later. The only difference is they will be figuring it out at a time when they have many other things to learn, college brings more then enough freedoms and temptations without adding new things like figuring out how to navigate social media and internet usage. You're just setting up a child to fail later by 'sheltering' then in their youth rather then teaching them how to handle things they must deal with later. I actually had a girl, ironically also home schooled, who I went to college with who had exactly this problem. I respected her for her charity work, but I often had to teach her very basic things and she acted shocked at things the rest of her peers found trivial because she was dealing with culture shock of all the freedom of college and exposure to a world her parents prevented her from learning how to survive in.

The point is trying to ban the internet, or even heavily regulate it, is an exercise in futility. Not only will it not work, but your grounds for doing it is flimsy. Teens will not understand why it's banned - because frankly it's foolish given all the good motives for not banning it - and so will just resent you for restricting it. In the end all it does is encourage teens to use the internet behind your back and encourage your teen to think of your rules as soo foolish, and easily subverted, that they should focus on getting around them in secret rather then trying to follow them. It's just wasting political capital as a parent to even attempt it.

The proper approach is to allow internet but discuss it. Help kids and teens to understand it's not always realistic, to learn how to fact check rather then accepting whatever insanity shows up in their news feeds, to tell them to come talk to you if they run into something they consider odd. In short guide a teen in how to use it responsibly to get the advantages of it without falling into it's pitfalls. Not to breed resentment by preventing their access to it then send them off to college without a clue of how to use their primary source of information.

3. So what should you do?

Nothing?

Okay you should do something, but telling your mother is not the approach here. To be frank your mother's rules are foolish and likely to backfire. doubling down on them won't help. As you said your brother trusts you now, his trust and willingness to communicate with you is far more valuable then backing up a bad rule your mother made.

Now you don't have to actively help your brother break the rules, there is a middle ground. Tell him you think he should follow your mother's rules, but if he won't he can still talk to you without you shamming him for it. You won't tell his mom, but you won't actively help trick her or hide what he is doing either. In short his breaking the rule is a matter between him and your mother, you are not involved in it; but he can still talk with you about it.

What I'd prefer to see is you take the role your parent's should have and guide him through proper internet usage. Set expectations, explain much of the internet is fake and not representative of real life. Teach him how to fact check things and make sure he knows he will run into falsehood on the internet and he shouldn't trust every click bait headline he sees. Help him avoid it's pitfalls so he can benefit from it.

Now depending on your relationship with your brother, or for that matter your own comfort with the internet, that may or may not be a viable option. However even if you can't help teach it's proper use do not bring up his actions to your parent's, your brother's trust is more important in this case.

The Social aspect:

I suspect your brother's social problems are unrelated to internet use. There are a very very rare few who are truly addicted to the internet, but you have given little evidence to suggest he is that far gone and, to be frank, I see far more accusation of such addiction then I see cases where it really applies. What occasionally happens is that when someone has no other prospective activities to engage in will fall back on something like internet use for lack of more appealing prospective. It's not that they can't stop using the internet, it's that he has nothing else worth doing instead of the internet.

Depression is a real issue, as can be social isolation, but it needs to be approached independently of the internet. The solution is not remove the internet and he will become more social. The solution is provide him things worth being social with. Help him to find friends, to create social habits, to join clubs etc. Give him things to do outside of his room.

Most homeschool programs go out of their way to have social elements built in precisely because it's known that without them a child can become isolated, look into these. Even outside of your home school curriculum there are clubs and activities for all interests. Find out what your brother likes and look up a club that supports it (using the internet of course!) get him enrolled in something that expands his social options.

For instance when I was feeling a little isolated in a new place I made an account on meetup.com and through it found a Saturday board gaming club I could participate in. In fact most of the people I visit on weekends now were met online originally; though I'll admit my means of meeting with them was...unique and won't apply to your brother; but the point is if you set out to find more social options you can find them.

While I don't know if this applies to you without knowing more about your situation, I'm going to add one extra caveat and ask you forgive me if it' a wasted warning in your case; because it is a common mistake people make. Introverts exist and are perfectly healthy but do tend to get a bit of shamming for being introverts. It's possible for an introvert to simply prefer more time alone then an extrovert without that being a sign of depression of isolation. So before you spend too much effort trying to enrich your brother's social life just make sure you ask rather he is happy the way he is. Not wanting as much social interaction as an extrovert does is not a problem by itself. It's only a problem if he either feels isolated or unhappy about his lack of social activity and/or is so socially isolated that he has failed to learn how to interact in a social environment successfully.

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I think we could go into very extensive discussions about whether there's a real issue here or not.

However, you mention

  • your own prior experience,
  • and how you dealt with it,
  • and how getting "caught" was a trigger to "clean up",
  • and how your relationship with your parents is possibly difficult,
  • and how we can assume your brother's relationship with your parents might be similar.

So, here's what I'd suggest:

Talk to your brother!!

  1. Empathize and sympathize with him.
  2. Talk about your own past struggles (but don't equate yours to his).
  3. Explain why you are concerned and the dangers that you see.
  4. Ask if there's concerns on his side.
  5. Offer your assistance if he's got any questions
  6. Clarify you'll be available to help if necessary.
  7. Simply ask "If I were to look at your phone, is there anything you'd be ashamed to show me? If yes, why? Can you tell me what these are, because maybe I saw or did the same, and we can talk about it."

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