The Internet became readily accessible worldwide roughly one decade ago. At the time, the world was too busy marveling at the convenience of having a repository of information at their fingertips. No one had the time and foresight to consider the fact that, in time, the Internet had potential to develop into a fertile environment for addiction and obsession. Cut to the year 2012, when, research has revealed, some 20 per cent of Australian children are so addicted to web surfing that they often go without eating, running on insufficient amounts of sleep.

The research in question comes from specialists at Edith Cowan University. According to their poll, compulsive online usage is twice as common in Australian children as in their British counterparts. What is more, over 50 per cent of respondents have acknowledged that their online behavior has caused missing out on time they should have spent doing homework, socializing with friends or engaging in meaningful activities with their families. 60 per cent admitted they browsed the Internet for lack of a better activity, when bored. And one in two Australian children experienced anxiety and mild withdrawal symptoms when they could not access the Internet. The study focused on the intensity and quality of the children’s experience with web surfing and didn’t ask them how much time they spent online—simply whether or not they felt they were spending too much time on it.

Bayside Psychotherapy expert Adam Szmerling explains that addictions can come under a variety of guises, all of which have an underlying social and cultural explanation. Most of us have an addiction of some sort, be it to gambling, to narcotic substances, alcohol, sex, or even to one’s body image. As he poignantly explains, addictions are somewhat culturally motivated, but the actual message an addict is trying to convey through their compulsive, and often self-destructive behavior, is that their addiction is a form of avoidance toward a very specific feeling – be it anxiety, depression, or some other form of need for attachment most of these needs arise in early childhood. Left improperly managed and without response, they develop into emotional and cognitive behavioral issues later on in life; most addicts struggle with their compulsion in a misguided attempt to recreate the feeling of being nurtured, in control, safe and secure. At the same time Szmerling explains that all addictions can be overcome for the long term, through tested-and-true twelve step programs, which can restore one’s livelihood. An Internet addiction is no less serious than an addiction to drugs, yet, like the former, it, too, can be successfully conquered.

Further information gathered through the Edith Cowan University poll indicates that online addictions reach their peak in kids aged 13 to 14, who reach high school age and are thus compelled to use the Internet more frequently than before, both for homework as well as for socializing with new friends on networking platforms. Official data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics also indicates that 6 per cent of Australian kids ages 5 to 15, and 12 per cent of those aged 12 to 14 spend as much as 20 hours a week on the Internet. Incidentally, that’s about the amount of time an adult or young adult would spend at a part time job – only the children are using that time to do homework research (90 per cent), play games online (over 60 per cent), listen to music or watch videos. Some 30 per cent use the web for accessing social networks and 1 in 5 kids regularly check out news, sports and weather websites.

While the general picture might not look that scary upon first glance (fifty per cent of Australian kids spend under four hours a week online), it’s worth taking into account that, according to the 2008 survey of children’s online time undertaken by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, kids aged 8 to 17 will spend 49 minutes of their daily hour online on social networking websites, and just 13 minutes on homework. Sleep disruption is the number one risk for this demographic, but in time other more severe issues such as anxiety, depression and eating disorders are also likely to arise from excessive Internet use.