Are you trapped in the net?


The Internet lets you communicate instantly, tap vast knowledge, watch news unfold, run a business -- you name it and the Net is your servant.

But could it become your master?

Psychology professor Kimberly Young, Psy.D., of the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, began studying Internet addiction after a friend sought help with her husband's online activities.

"The husband's actions -- the preoccupation with being online, his lying about the amount of time in front of the computer, the extreme moodiness, and his avoidance of family and friends -- were all traits common to addictive behavior," says Dr. Young, founder of the Center for Online and Internet Addiction. In one survey, "6 percent of the respondents met the criteria for compulsive Internet use and over 30 percent reported that they were using the Net to escape from negative feelings," she says. "The vast majority admitted that while online they lost track of time, felt extremely uninhibited and were more likely to be intimate with another person than in a face-to-face relationship."

Some other experts doubt that Internet addiction poses much of a threat.

"The Internet is merely a tool, not a saint or a villain," says New York psychologist Michael Fenichel, Ph.D., founder of the International Society for Mental Health Online. The danger, he says, lies in some people's inability to separate themselves from the Internet's offer of freedom, knowledge and self-gratification.

But both experts suggest watching Net use:

  • Track family time online. Keep a log for sign-on and sign-off.
  • Schedule computer use. Set blocks of time for kids' homework, your bill paying and your spouse's games.
  • Find some chores or entertainment that don't use a computer.
  • Get outdoors. If you're online too much, you're missing exercise and risking eyestrain, back pain and repetitive use injuries to hands and arms.
  • Spend face-to-face time with family, friends and neighbors.
  • Get professional help if the Net becomes the focus of your life.