7News Investigates Gets Exclusive Look Inside New Child Internet Addiction Center

(WHDH) — When does your child’s internet use become a mental disorder?

7News got an exclusive look at one of the first medical clinics in the world devoted to treating kids addicted to the internet – right here in Boston.

It can go beyond simply playing too many video games.

Activity that is constant, compulsive, and often concealed.

“The issue is that it becomes more important to them than their real activities of life,” said Dr. Michael Rich, the director of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Center on Media and Child Health, and an expert commonly known as the Mediatrician.

For many children, it’s almost like a drug.

“We need to observe when those kids’ behaviors in that digital space is putting them at risk,” Rich said. “These kids are going to an environment that is very carefully laid out to engage them and to keep engaging them.”

“Some kids get stuck in them and they can’t get out of them,” Rich said of different online mediums.

So many parents have reached out for help that Rich recently founded a unique treatment center at Boston Children’s Hospital.

It’s called the Clinic for Interactive Media and Internet Disorders. Rich said it’s the first devoted to kids and based at an academic medical center.

Patients are treated in the adolescent wing at the hospital every other week.

Instead of “internet addiction,” Rich prefers the term “problematic interactive media use.” He said it can revolve around gaming, social media, pornography, or information bingeing.

Rich said the crucial element of treatment is “identifying the underlying driver of these behaviors,” and that it’s often linked to larger attention or anxiety issues.

Rich and a team of doctors at CIMAID are devoted to diagnosing and treating children who can’t unplug. And as they learn more, they’re also developing resources to help pediatricians, school staff, and parents prevent internet addiction.

Rich said the sooner parents take action, the better.

“What we want to do actually is to identify these problems much earlier – much farther upstream – before they become disabling,” Rich said.

In December, the World Health Organization listed “gaming disorder” as a mental health condition for the first time. That could open the door to treatment being covered by health insurance.

(Copyright (c) 2018 Sunbeam Television. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)