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Excessive internet uset


To many parents it seems as though children and young people are constantly online. Often they seem to be completing more than one task at a time; for example, downloading and listening to music while studying and chatting with friends or sending messages on their mobile phones.

The number of hours children and young people spend online can vary significantly. There is no guideline for the ‘right’ amount of time for children to spend online, however if their online behaviour appears to impact negatively on their behaviour or wellbeing, or that of the family, it may be time to discuss expectations and establish time limits.

How much is too much?

Noticeable changes in the online and offline behaviour of children and young people can be indicators of excessive internet use. These include online activities interfering with general health and wellbeing, seeming obsessed with particular websites or games, appearing anxious or irritable when away from the computer, spending increasing amounts of time online, excessive tiredness, a decline in academic performance and seeming isolated or withdrawn from offline friends and activities.

Some of these indicators may be developmentally appropriate behaviours for young people, particularly teens. Alternatively, they may be indicators of other significant issues such as cyber bullying, friendship difficulties and mental health issues.

If you have concerns about your child’s online or offline behaviour and, in particular, changes in their mood or behaviour, explore your concerns with them. You may like to seek professional support for your child.

The following general tips will help parents manage excessive internet use for young children, older children and teenagers.

Young children

Young children are unlikely to have issues with spending too much time on the internet due to limited access and ability. If children are using computers or interacting online it is valuable for parents to start to educate them about appropriate usage levels.

  1. Consider establishing rules about when children can play online games or use the internet and how long they can play each day. You might consider agreeing with your child a set balance of online activities and offline activities such as outside play or drawing.
  2. Establishing rules with children when they are young can help manage their online activities as they get older and their online activity increases.
  3. Try to locate the computer in a shared or visible place in the home so you are aware of how much time your child spends online.
  4. If you have concerns about your child’s online behaviour explore your concerns with them. If necessary seek professional support.
  5. If of school age, your child’s school may also be able to provide guidance and support.

Older children

Many older children spend time on the internet socialising, studying and for entertainment. There is no guideline for the ‘right’ amount of time for children to spend online, however if their online behaviour appears to impact negatively on their behaviour or wellbeing, or that of the family, it may be time to discuss expectations, and establish online time limits.

  1. Look for indicators that your child may be spending too much time online, such as declining interest in other activities, talking constantly about an online game or activity, a decline in grades or irritability when they are away from an online game. You may also suspect they are getting up after bed time to play a game.
  2. Children may seem quite tired during the day or skip meals to avoid leaving the computer.
  3. You may like to check with your child’s school to identify whether they are experiencing issues with timeliness or quality of work, and tiredness.
  4. Consider establishing rules about when children can play games or use the internet and how long they can play each day. You might consider agreeing with your child a set balance of online activities and offline activities such as outside play, homework and housework. A two week trial of new rules might be useful to establish whether they seem to provide a good balance for your child and your family.
  5. Establishing rules with children when they are young can help with the management of their online activities as they get older.
  6. Try to locate the computer in a shared or visible place in the home so you are aware of how much time your child spends online.
  7. If you have concerns about your child’s online behaviour explore your concerns with them. If necessary seek professional support.
  8. Your child’s school may also be able to provide guidance and support.

Teenagers

Many teens spend a fair amount of time on the internet socialising, studying and for entertainment. For many their online activities form a part of their social identity. However, it is important that teens take care of themselves and balance their online interactions with other aspects of their lives.

There are no guidelines for the ‘right’ amount of time for teens to spend online, however if their online behaviour appears to impact negatively on their behaviour or wellbeing or that of the family, it may be time to discuss expectations, and establish agreed time limits on use.

  1. Look for indicators that your teen may be spending too much time online, such as a decline in interest in other activities, talking constantly about an online game or activity, a decline in grades or irritability when they are away from a game. You may also suspect they are getting up after bed time to play games or chat to others.
  2. Teens may seem quite tired during the day or skip meals to avoid leaving the computer.
  3. You may like to check with your teen’s school to identify whether they are experiencing issues with timeliness or quality of work.
  4. If issues arise consider establishing rules about when teens can play games or use the internet and how long they can play each day. You might consider agreeing with your teen a set balance of online and offline activities. You may need to establish consequences for rule breaches. For example, if your teen doesn’t undertake their assigned jobs they may have access to online games restricted.
  5. Try to locate the computer in a shared or visible place in the home so you are aware of how much time your teen spends online.
  6. If you have concerns about your teen’s online behaviour explore your concerns with them. If necessary seek professional support.
  7. Your teen’s school may also be able to provide guidance and support.

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