01.11.2012 At first hand

Editorial Isabelle Widmer. The Internet is addictive. The intense fascination exerted by some Internet activities can result in excessive use that amounts to addiction, particularly in adolescents and young adults. And because the Internet access on mobile devices is improving all the time, the problem is likely to grow over the next few years. The distinction between the virtual and the real world will become increasingly blurred. Consequently, the up-and-coming generation will experience an entirely new form of socialisation, with consequences for society that can scarcely be predicted at present.

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In the light of this situation, it seems obvious that, in the social discourse, certain forms of Internet use are increasingly being treated as a problem. However, this perception of such activities as a problem stems from a generation that has for the most part grown up without the Internet. It is quite conceivable that younger parents will be more successful in integrating the Internet into the everyday routine of their children's upbringing. In addition, scientific studies show that the Internet does not dominate the everyday lives of the majority of children, adolescents and adults; rather, it has become an indispensable part of the world they live in.

New media were already a source of anxiety a hundred years ago. As the sociologist Ernst Schultze wrote in 1909: "In almost no time at all, the child becomes addicted to devoting its entire free time to reading; it wants to do nothing else, (…) – everything is expunged by the miracles that are suddenly revealed to the child in the world of books. (…). And it will devour everything it can get hold of."

Any further discussion of the dangers and risks of Internet use should therefore take the positive aspects of the Internet into account as well. In relation to prevention, this means encouraging adolescents to take a constructive approach to the Internet at an early stage. In addition, their media skills should be developed. In this way, children and adolescents will learn not only how to use the Internet in moderation, but also how to handle other risks and dangers associated with it.

Isabelle Widmer, Drugs Section, Federal Office of Public Health

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