According to new research, over a third of young people believe they are addicted to the internet.
The poll, carried out on behalf of Tablets for Schools, a charity that campaigns for the increased use of tablet type devices in education, unearthed some shocking statistics on how much today’s young people actually rely on devices that allow them to access the web.
One 12-year-old who was interviewed as part of the survey said: “The internet nearly always controls my actions.
“I have been told that I am addicted to the internet, and prefer its company rather than being with other people. I feel lost without the internet.”
Being addicted to the internet at a young age can have dangerous consequences with potential exposure to cyber bullying, violent and pornographic content.
So how can you tell if you’re child – or a young person you know – is addicted? Here are five things to look out for:
1. They are difficult to separate from their tablet, smartphone or laptop
Quality time with the family is vital in any household and that shouldn’t come second to time spent surfing the net and chatting with friends online. Young people who take their tablet, smartphone or laptop to the table when eating evening meals or during other social occasions should be discouraged to do so in order to avoid it becoming an acceptable practice.
2. They spend more time on their devices than with their friends
Children who are addicted to the internet can quickly become socially isolated. Instead of spending time with friends and family, they spend all their time with their device.
Yes, this might spell the end for muddy school uniforms and sibling rivalries, but that is all part of a child’s growing-up process and the way they learn how to interact with others.
A 2012 study of children aged 11 to 16 by the London School of Economics, found the UK was among the worst nations for excessive internet use, with more than 25% spending less time with family and friends because of being on the web.
You can’t actively force your child to go out and socialise with friends face-to-face, but limiting the amount of time they spend with a computer or smartphone might just encourage them to go out and make their own entertainment.
3. Having a set “bedtime” becomes a challenge
Apparently, almost three quarters of 14 to 15 year olds take a web-enabled device with them to bed. Okay, it’s one thing to gently nod off while talking to friends or catching up on the latest news, but it becomes a problem when young people can’t get through the night without checking to see if they have new mail or what people are discussing on social media.
A broken sleep pattern and a restless night can have a knock-on-effect in terms of a child’s behaviour and mental performance during daytime hours.
So next time you hear something go bump in the night – it might just be your child indulging in some late night Twitter activity.
4. Their school work is suffering
The irony here is that the internet can actually help and enhance a child’s education. But the many distraction offered by social network sites and other unrelated web pages can often have a negative effect on a child’s concentration levels – and ultimately their school work.
While two thirds of 11 to 17-year-olds take their tablet, smartphone or laptop to bed with them, only a third confess to using it for homework with the remainder talking to friends or watching films and videos.
Combined with tiredness and apathy due to lack of sleep (see previous point) it’s no surprise that schoolwork often tends to suffer.
5. You notice worrying behavioural changes
Aside from some of the more aggressive behavioural changes that have been linked with children accessing violent movies and games online, a more worrying aspect of a child using the internet is the very real threat of cyber bullying.
The charity Childline has seen a rapid increase in the number of children contacting them regarding online bullying, which leapt from 2,410 in 2011/12 to 4,507 in 2012/13.
Claire Lilley, the head of online safety at the NSPCC, says: “There is a lot of pressure on young people, including from their peers, to be ‘always on’, and the 24/7 nature of children’s access to the internet means that issues like online bullying can escalate quickly.”
So sudden behavioural changes or mood swings might indicate that something isn’t quite right with your child and delving deeper into their change of mood is required.