The Internet has changed our world. It can enrich our lives by providing entertainment, information, social networking, gaming, and connections to people all over the world. However, for some, Internet use can grow into a problem. People may find themselves online-shopping, gaming, social networking, site surfing, blogging, stock trading, gambling, having cybersex, viewing pornography-to an extent that it interferes with their ability to keep up with school, relationships, and work, and/or has a negative effect on their mood.
College students in particular may develop overuse of the Internet. Increased accessibility, a culture that supports computer and Internet use, and lots of unstructured time can lead to problematic Internet use in some students.
Consequences of problematic Internet use
College students may experience the following as a result of problematic Internet use:
- Fatigue and sleep difficulties
- Withdrawal from other forms of social activities such as hanging out with friends, or participating in study groups, physical activity, and/or campus organizations
- Declining grades
- Overjustifying their Internet use and rationalizing the importance of the Internet
There are no hard-and-fast rules for telling us when someone is spending too much time online. As a general rule, if time spent online interferes with the quality of your life-- financially, socially, medically, and/or emotionally--then you may want to consider getting help.
Do you have a problem?
You may have problematic internet use if you:
- Stay online longer than intended
- Frequently lose track of time when you are on the Internet
- Cover up how much time you are spending online
- Try to "cut down" but fail
- Fantasize or spend time thinking about being online even when you are not
- Lose sleep because you are using or thinking about using the Internet
- Become irritable if others interrupt you while you are online
- Use the Internet to escape or not think about other problems in your life
- Suffer in your academic or job performance because of your Internet use
- Experience physical problems due to your use of the Internet
- Hear concerns from others about your Internet use
- Neglect other responsibilities to be online
- Spend time engaged in illegal activities on the Internet
- Develop goals for going online. You can avoid site surfing and losing track of time by setting a specific goal for each on-line session. For instance, if you need to do web research for a class, set the goal of going directly to the academic site so that you can accomplish your research first.
- Increase your awareness about your time online. On the Internet, you can easily lose track of timeÉ until several hours have passed! To stay aware of your Internet use and make changes:
- Create a log of how much time you are spending on gaming, email, social networking, newsgroups, the Web, and other Internet applications.
- Decide how long you plan to be online each session and set a timer when you go online.
- Schedule your time online like you would for other daily activities such as studying, eating, study groups, or class.
- Computer software products are also available to help limit internet sessions.
- Consider limiting access to the Internet.
- Study in a place without access to the Internet
- Turn off automatic alerts (i.e., that you've received a new message or that new posts have been made to a favorite site or newsgroup), as these can pull your attention away from what you are doing.
- Set your home page to something academic instead of a site that is distracting to you.
- Check out your thoughts and beliefs about the Internet. Your thoughts and beliefs about the importance of the Internet can contribute to your online use patterns. You may rationalize your use by saying, "I have to check my email, I may have a new message." Challenge this thought. Then you can evaluate whether or not you really need to check your email again, especially if checking your email might lead you away from focusing on the material for a test the next day.
- Evaluate your own triggers. Are there times or situations that make you more likely to have problematic Internet use? Is it when you are feeling bored, lonely, depressed, or anxious? Consider what the Internet might be replacing in your life. Problematic Internet use may occur when people are trying to escape something in their world, and the feelings of confidence, relief, or excitement that come from going online may reinforce use of the Internet to escape. Figuring out when you are triggered, and what feelings arise, can help you make changes such as picking an alternative activity.
- Consider alternatives. When you are trying to change a behavior, you need to have alternatives when you feel like engaging in that behavior again. For example, instead of going online, you can hang out with or call friends, engage in physical activity, join a student organization or enjoy a hobby.
How to help someone with problematic Internet use
- Talk privately with that person about the negative impact of his/her Internet use, including any negative effect on your relationship.
- Listen nonjudgmentally and with an open mind. Problematic Internet use can cause a person to feel ashamed, and it may be difficult for him/her to discuss this problem.
- Discuss options and ask how you can be helpful.
- Provide information about helpful resources
What to do if you need additional help
Counseling can be a way to understand why you are using the Internet, help you look at ways to change your behavior, and choose other alternatives. Working with a counselor can also help you know whether your Internet use is the primary problem or not. You can contact UT's Counseling & Mental Health Center and make an appointment by calling (512) 471-3515 or going to the 5th floor of the Student Services Building. You can speak to a counselor by calling the CMHC Crisis Line & Referral Service at (512) 471-2255.
Center for Internet Addiction Recovery