The temptation is hard to resist: the internet is always available, and it offers a neverending stream of music, video and other distractions. The average child in Europe starts to use the internet at the age of seven. By the time they are 15-16 years old, almost three quarters of young people go online daily, while 30% of young people between the ages of 11 and 16 have experienced symptoms linked to excessive internet use.
While doctors and researchers are still studying this problem, they believe it is similar to other addictions: the compulsive desire for a ‘fix’ – to post another update or to beat the next level of a game – and for the happy feeling gained from it, which only reinforces the behaviour.
A healthy balance
Maintaining a healthy balance is important. People who are addicted to the internet spend hours and hours online, neglecting their real life relationships and even basic needs like cleanliness, food and sleep. Physical symptoms of addiction can include withdrawal symptoms, backache, carpal tunnel syndrome, dry eyes, migraines and sleep disturbance.
If you feel you may suffer from excessive internet use, you should consider confiding in someone you trust: a real person, not someone you only know online! This person could be a parent, teacher, doctor or perhaps an older sibling. You can also contact the safer internet helplines.
There are things you can do to help yourself, such as moving the computer from your bedroom to the family room; it’ll no longer be just you and the computer, and others around you will help you monitor how much time you spend online.
Software that limits internet use is also available. Or you could try to find another outlet for your interests. For example, if you spend time online involved in role playing, why not read a fantasy novel or try a theatre group?
Are you worried that you are spending too much time online?
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Do you neglect your schoolwork to go online?
- Are you staying up late at night online?
- Do you continue to browse the internet even after you lose interest?
- Have you fallen out of touch with family and friends in the real world because you prefer staying online?
- Do you feel angry, depressed or irritable when you are not at your computer?
- Are you secretive about how much time you are spending online and do you lie to people who ask about your computer use?
Online games can sometimes really absorb you, and you will want to do anything to win or get to the next level. It’s possible to become addicted to online gaming, so try to limit the time you spend playing… and remember it’s only a game!