The popularity of the internet continues to grow because of the many ways users can interact, be entertained, informed, contacted, and occupied. Users connect through virtual worlds, blogs, games, subscription services and social networking sites. Technology gives users the ability to stay connected and contactable 24 hours a day.
However, being connected 24 hours can lead to excessive internet use, which can have a negative impact on the wellbeing of the user and his/her friends and family. Attention to the issue of potential for harm to the user is increasing.
Do you show signs of possible excessive internet use? Are you:
- experiencing a decline in work/study performance as a result of time spent online?
- feeling tired as a result of late night online activity?
- missing meals or eating while online so that time is not taken away from online activities?
- lying awake at night with your mind on what's happening online or waking up in the middle of the night to check online updates and messages?
- involved in online activities at inappropriate times and places such as in a place of worship or while driving?
- misleading family members about the extent of time spent on the internet?
- preferring to spend time online than with your family and friends?
- spending time on the internet because it's more fun than the 'real' world?
- unsuccessfully trying to cut back on internet use?
Answering yes to more than a few of these questions may mean there is a potential problem with excessive internet use. Left unchecked, this can have a negative impact on your wellbeing, your family and friends and may affect work/study performance.
Some ways to minimise the risk of excessive internet use:
While it is tempting to be online 24 hours a day, it is important to strike a balance between online and offline activity. Here are some tips on how to reduce the use of technology:
- Go for a walk at lunchtime. You are more likely to stay online if you remain at your desk during your lunch break.
- Avoid work activities during your break. If you must check your messages, return calls when you're back at your desk.
- Set specific times for checking work message or updates e.g. when arriving at work, just before lunch and just before leaving work.
- Keep work and home life separate. Unless it is a requirement of your job that you are contactable out of hours, switch off technology relating to your work when you're at home with your family and friends.
- Set specific times for checking updates on social networking sites-only at home and only at allocated times. No online technology after bedtime.
- Catch up with friends in person rather than online.
- Set aside time for a technology free break. Don't use technology during dinner time or when you are out with friends or when you have visitors.
- Try a technology free challenge. For a specified time each day of the challenge, there is no connection to any type of technology.
Worried your kids are overusing the internet?
How the internet is used and for how long may depend on the age of the child and is a matter of parental discretion. However, if parents are concerned that their child's internet use is having negative social, psychological or academic impact, the following tips can be modified to help parents, carers and teens manage children's internet use:
- Supervise children. Make sure the computer is in a central place visible to you and monitor how the computer and the internet are being used and for how long.
- Set rules. For instance:
- give permission before any computer/internet time
- set specific times for online activity
- no computer use if an adult is not there to supervise.
- Create a journal with your child to track online activity with a view to achieving an offline/online balance.
- Talk to your child. If you have concerns about your child's internet use or online behaviour, discuss your concerns with them. If necessary seek professional support.
The Cybersmart Online Helpline provided by Kids Helpline is a free, confidential online counselling service for children and young people.
For general help and advice about kids' safety online, check with your school or call the Cybersafety Contact Centre on 1800 880 176. The Kids Helpline can provide additional help and support for young people. Call them on 1800 551 800 or contact them online at www.kidshelp.com.au . Kids Helpline also offers a service to search for local agencies that can help.
Where to go for help
If internet use is excessive and impacts negatively on your wellbeing or that of your family, seek counselling or an appropriate support group. Your doctor can develop a mental health plan to enable free counselling sessions.
Information and support for young people to help them through tough times
Information for Australians about depression
Telephone counselling service and online advice and support-24 hours.
Tel: 13 11 14
For more information or to help children stay safe online visit the ACMA site at www.acma.gov.au and the Cybersmart site at www.cybersmart.gov.au .
Excessive Internet Use in the news
- Swinburne University Study, Excessive Internet Use: The Role of Personality, Loneliness and Social Support Networks in Internet Addiction. Australian Journal of Emerging Technologies and Society-Vol 5, No1, 2007, accessed 19 October 2010
- AIIPsych online Journal, Internet Addiction Disorder, accessed 19 October 2010.
- Herald Sun, Medicare rebate call for sick web gamers, 13 September 2010, accessed14 September.
- Adelaide Now, Internet Addiction a mental disorder, 12 September 2010, accessed 21 October 2010.
- Bright Hub, The Social Implications of Internet Addiction, 28 August 2010
cites survey conducted by Stanford University, accessed 21 October 2010.
- Inner West Courier, Computer game addiction treatment at Concord, 7 July 2010, cites five year research conducted at the Rivendell Adolescent and Family Unit at Thomas Walker Hospital, Concord NSW, accessed 21 October 2010.
- The Age, London hospital to treat internet -addicted teens, 19 March 2010, accessed 21 October 2010.
- 'Students are web addicts', MX Melbourne, 20 August 2010, p.4.
- 'Addiction anxiety as game use rises', Adelaide Advertiser, 3 August 2010, p.27.
- 'Internet addiction or a legally protected human right?' Canberra Times, 5 June 2010, p.14.