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When The Internet Provides “Parenting”

In my article Time Out of Mind (Toronto, Ellen L. K. 2009.  Time Out of Mind: Dissociation in the Virtual World. Psychoanalytic Psychology.  26 (2) 117-133), I discuss the plight of a young boy named Timmy. Sadly enough, the Internet provides a type of “parenting” that is missing in his real life.

According to the homeschooling logs provided by Timmy’s mother, is it likely to assume that he is spending 30-35 hours on the Internet. By definition (Young, 1996) this amount of involvement would constitute an addiction. His mother writes internet erotica. His grandmother and uncle design video games. Without some major intervention, it is likely that this will be Timmy’s life. His father appears to be attempting to extricate his son from this world but provides a stressful and chaotic alternative that would only magnify the anxiety of this already fearful young boy. The fighting between his parents is unrelenting and Timmy finds his only solace in the illusory world of Toontown. There he can express anger, fight bad guys, make friends and have a sense of agency that is so lacking in his real life.

In many ways, Timmy is fighting for his psychic existence. In the drawing of his room, he forgets to draw himself. Like the imaginary dragons one encounters in a book, when someone tries to prove his reality he disappears. His parents profess to care for him but their commitment to their ongoing battle too often takes precedence over Timmy’s welfare. For him the internet is a survival tool. He can “live” there and until someone is able to acknowledge and contain his fear, his anger, his fragility and his longing, he will most likely continue to do so.

This adaptation is, at best, marginal.  We wonder whether the anxiety Timmy experiences at his father’s house stems from a confrontation with real and unpredictable human interaction that threatens his omnipotent and grandiose self, a self that he can more easily maintain on the internet. Does that mean that his self-representation is an assemblage of computer parts and games? Do computer games serve as a transitional object for Timmy? Or, more ominously, do they function as a soothing primary attachment, a “cyborg-mother?” Ainslie warns that, while Toontown may be a reliable, predictable place, it is not real in any way that would allow this young boy to accommodate his “finely textured” human needs.


When The Internet Provides “Parenting”

Ellen Toronto, Ph.D.

Dr. Ellen Toronto is a licensed clinical psychologist/psychoanalyst in the state of Michigan.

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APA Reference
Toronto, E. (2020). When The Internet Provides “Parenting”. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2020, from


Last updated: 30 May 2020
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