One in five Australian children misses meals and loses sleep because of excessive internet use and one in three feels anxious when they cannot be online, a study has found.
Edith Cowan University communications professor Lelia Green and her team surveyed hundreds of teenagers nationwide about internet use in a comparative study with children from 25 European nations.
The results showed that Australian children's internet use built to a peak at 13 years of age, younger than the average European peak age, which was 15-16 years.
Of the 13-year-olds surveyed, 7 per cent admitted they experienced all five behaviours associated with excessive internet use - not eating or sleeping because of using the internet, feeling anxious when they could not get online, surfing the web when they were not interested, spending less time with family and friends and trying unsuccessfully to decrease their internet use.
Professor Green said those who ticked all five behaviours were most likely to experience emotional problems.
She said though excessive internet use in itself was not something to be concerned about, it may be a manifestation of other offline problems.
“Spending what parents perceive as ‘a lot of time’ on the internet is not the real concern — it is when children’s offline behaviour starts to change such as increased agitation and anxiety that indicate a problem,” she said.
“Teenagers experiencing bullying or family issues seek the internet because they feel safe online.
"As a parent you need to take a look at both online and offline issues affecting your child.
“It’s not simply just a case of disconnecting the modem, its more complicated than that — parents looking purely at internet use miss the bigger picture.”
Professor Green also said it was important for parents to talk to their children very early-on about the internet, show an interest in what they do online and help them develop basic internet safety skills.