Excessive use of technology 

Developing likes, dislikes, hobbies and interests is an important part of growing up. You might have noticed that your son or daughter has become passionate about a particular sport or band, for example. Similarly, they might love going on the internet, using their mobile, playing on their games console or listening to their MP3 player

For teenagers in particular, going online has become a vital social currency – logging on to Facebook or another social networking website when they get back from school is the equivalent of you rushing home to phone your friends when you were their age – and playing on the PSP, Wii or Xbox has now become part of the evening and weekend routine for many children.


What do I need to know about excessive use of technology? 

Faced with an ever-growing range of digital devices, products, services and features, young people generally use them in a positive and balanced way. But some parents will recognise that children and teenagers can spend many hours on them and you might be concerned that your kids are using technology excessively.

Just as you help your son or daughter to manage and moderate their behaviour and activities in the real world, you need to guide them on their journey through the digital world. If you’re not sure where to start, you could use built-in tools like Parental Controls to help manage their time and safety online.

In rare cases, children and teenagers can become obsessed with technology, particularly computer games.

In 2008, a leading US psychiatrist Dr Jerald Block, suggested that obsessive internet use, including excessive gaming, sexual preoccupations and emailing/texting, should be recognised as a clinical disorder.

Dr Block suggested that there are four common characteristics of obsessive internet use:

  • Excessive use – losing track of time or neglecting to eat or sleep
  • Withdrawal – eg feelings of anger, tension or depression
  • Tolerance – wanting a better computer or more hours online
  • Negative repercussions – eg arguments, lies, isolation and tiredness

Even if your child isn’t showing any of these characteristics, you might be worried that they’re spending too much time online and not focusing on other hobbies or school work. Or you might have concerns that their friendships are based only around social networking sites rather than the school playground.

It can be difficult to know when normal enthusiasm for digital devices has moved on to something more worrying. It’s therefore important to talk to your son or daughter about their digital world on a regular basis and to take some simple steps to help them balance their technology time with real-world activities.

What action can I take? 

To help avoid excessive use of technology:

In the same way that you have family rules in the real world, set clear boundaries for your child when it comes to their use of the internet, mobiles and other devices – eg how long they’re allowed on the computer, what kind of websites they can visit, which games they’re allowed to play and how much money they can spend on things like texts, calls, downloads and apps

Set up Parental Controls and Safe Search based on their age and maturity to help protect them from accessing inappropriate or harmful content – but remember that they might not be 100% effective and aren’t a substitute for parental supervision

For younger children in particular, consider signing up for a monthly mobile contract so that you receive an itemised bill and can see who they’ve called and texted. Tell your child that you’ll be able to see this on the bill so that they don’t feel like you’re spying on them

Read our articles about downloading & copyright, gambling, games, mobile costs and search

If you’re concerned your child is becoming addicted to digital devices:

Move the computer/console/TV into a family room so that they can't go online, play games or watch TV during the night. You might even want to put some rules in place about when and where they use their mobile as some children are known to text and log on late at night from their beds

Don’t leave it until you’re concerned before you talk to them – keep the lines of communication open so that they know that you’re there for them

Where can I go for more information and support?