Excessive Internet Use - Overview

We don’t always hear the clock ticking when we’re online and young people are no exception. Between doing research for homework, talking with friends, updating social networking pages and playing games, it’s easy to see how kids and teens might lose track of time. Excessive Internet use, however, can negatively affect young people’s school work, health and social lives. Unfortunately, adults don’t usually discover this problem until it’s become serious.

Parents know that children and young people can easily become ‘hooked’ on online activities such as gaming and using Facebook, but is this really an addiction? While some experts refuse to use the term “addiction” to describe excessive use of the Internet (because it doesn’t entail physical symptoms) it is increasingly common to refer to excessive Internet use as a behavioural addiction, which is defined as losing the ability to stop going online to the point where it impacts on other areas of your life, including relationships, emotions, social life, school, and so on.

It is also now recognized that there are different forms of addiction based on the type of Internet activity – for example downloading, forming online relationships, compulsive shopping, accessing pornography and gaming. [1]

For young people, online role-playing games lend themselves particularly well to excessive use because these games have no end and there is always someone available to play with. In addition, in role-playing games players are often members of groups, which mean they need to stay engaged so everyone can advance. However, keep in mind that research shows only 5 to twelve per cent of gamers have a problem with excessive playing.

If a child or teen is obsessive about playing a certain game it can be worrisome, however there can be benefits to keep in mind. Some psychologists believe that games may support and help young people through adolescent changes, for example the avatar representing them could allow them to explore new identities. It’s also important to acknowledge the confidence that comes with mastering a game and in role-playing games, the more time spent playing, the more skilled the players become.

For more information on compulsive gaming see the Video Games section.


[1] Gimenez Guy et alii, (2003), “La dépendance à Internet, une addiction nouvelle ?”, L’information psychiatrique, vol 79, n°3. http://www.jle.com/en/revues/medecine/ipe/e-docs/00/03/F9/FF/article.phtml