Identifying Teens With Problematic Internet Usage


Most teens spend a significant amount of time online. From TikTok to Instagram, young adults absorb a multitude of content and information every day. Yet, online content is not always safe. Anonymous forums such as 4chan and Reddit can contain uncensored content that can seriously affect adolescents. Learn how to identify a teen who engages in dangerous internet usage and how to promote positive online interactions.

What Content Can You Find in These Forums?

Anonymous chatrooms and online discussion forums contain unrestricted content targeted toward adults. This includes pornographic and/or violent media and discussion. Although this does not make up the entirety of these websites, this kind of widespread problematic content can easily be accessed by young internet users.

Due to the use of anonymous usernames, anyone can post uncensored content and messages. This can include:

  • Predatory interactions with minors
  • Sexually explicit images, videos, or discussion
  • Instructions on self-harm and violence
  • Misinformation and radical indoctrination

Who Can Enter These Websites?

Unfortunately, it is incredibly easy to access these websites. For example, 4chan has an age restriction of 18 years or older; however, this is only reinforced by a pop-up asking users to confirm they are old enough. By simply clicking “agree” with no further screening, minors can access all of the website’s adult content.

Meanwhile, Reddit does require users to be 13 years or older and create an account. Additionally, NSFW (not safe for work) content can only be accessed by those who are 18 years or older. However, this can be easily manipulated by any experienced internet user (which includes most teens). Further, Reddit does not require online users to sign in to view the majority of its content.

Keep in mind, despite their regulations, neither 4chan nor Reddit has an age-verification system in place. As a result, any teen can view and interact with damaging online content. Clearly, this online usage is negative, but how can it specifically harm teens and their mental health?

How Harmful Online Content Can Affect Teens

Exposure to this kind of negative content can have various effects on teens. Young adults with depression can find their symptoms exacerbated when viewing triggering discussion forums. These forums can contain hazardous information detailing how to self-harm or encourage suicidal ideations. According to a paper published in JMIR Mental Health, many teens can also participate in online “challenges” which instruct users to engage in self-harm.

Meanwhile, encountering sexual content online can lead to an increased desire for pornography and the stimulation it provides. As a result, these teens would be more likely to develop porn addiction. While viewing mature content, teens can experience desensitization and begin accessing unhealthy sexual media, including fetish and/or violent sexual content. Continuous exposure to this content can lead teens to participate in unhealthy sexual relationships and ignore healthy emotional intimacy.

Misinformation and exposure to radical indoctrination are especially detrimental to young adults. Content including racism, sexism, homophobia, and more is readily available on sites such as 4chan and Reddit. According to the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, teenage boys and girls experience different symptoms of depression. Male teens can experience feelings of anger which can be reinforced by violent ideologies and hate speech.

Ways to Identify Teens With Problematic Internet Usage

Determining if a teen is engaging in dangerous internet activity may be difficult as they will unlikely admit to frequenting such websites. However, there are signs and behavioral changes which may indicate a teen’s use of problematic anonymous chatrooms or forums. This includes:

  • Social withdrawal: A detachment from social activity and offline interaction with peers can be the result of an increased online presence and perceived social enrichment from online chatrooms. Do they spend time with friends in or outside school? Do they engage in family activities?
  • Increased online activity: Spending more than a few hours online each day can show a dependence on online interactions. How many hours a day are they on the internet? Are they spending more time than usual online?
  • Attachment to mobile device: Teens interacting with inappropriate content will likely feel a need to have their phone near them at all times. Additionally, they may struggle to stay off their smartphones for a prolonged amount of time.
  • Angry outbursts: Teens participating in hate-fuelled forums promoting violence may experience outbursts of anger or begin to discuss heated and/or misinformed political and societal topics.

How to Promote Positive Internet Usage

The best way to promote healthy internet use is to keep the conversation open and without judgment. By giving a teen a safe space to discuss their online activity, you can help advise them on safe ways to use social media and avoid potentially hazardous websites such as 4chan and Reddit.

Remind teens that the online users they frequently chat with may not be who they perceive. By avoiding anonymous chats and forums and primarily using age-appropriate platforms, these teens can avoid predators and harmful content. You can also help teens create healthy internet practices by promoting fewer hours spent online and an increase in offline activities.

Young adults can be negatively affected by predatory and dangerous online content. 4chan and Reddit are just some examples of websites hosting harmful information and media. When it comes to internet activity, a teen’s mental health is at stake. At Sustain Recovery, we provide extended care that differs from traditional residential and long-term treatment. We offer structure and consistency within a loving environment during the patient’s entire treatment process. With varying levels of care available at Sustain Recovery, we ensure that each resident will be assisted by an individual counselor and therapist to help them adjust. Our program leads young adults on a path of self-discovery and healing to rebuild confidence. With a strong support system like Sustain Recovery, teens can find a bright future ahead of them. Please get in touch with our facility at (949) 407-9052 if you have a client who could benefit from our unique care.