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Internet use could be harmful for brain development

Photo: Kids' internet use may harm: psychiatrist
Research needed to discover potential pains and gains of the internet on developing brains, says psychiatrist

Young people using the internet and social media are going into an "unregulated, unchartered and unprotected jungle", says a child psychiatrist.

Research was urgently needed into this newly emerging area to discover the potential harms and benefits on developing brains, said Professor Wai Chen from the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Western Australia.

He was speaking to AAP before the annual conference of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, beginning in Hong Kong on Sunday.

"We need research to help parents to understand how to negotiate the internet and the potential risks involving self-harm and the suicide contagion effect," he said.
"The risks is for children who are depressed, distressed or bullied who may go on the internet, and get information which will increase the likelihood of self-harm behaviours."

He likened the internet effect to that of alcohol on young vulnerable people who become more disinhibited and might self-harm.

"For parents, it is important to make sure your kid is not in that vulnerable group."

Keep up good lines of communication and understanding so a child can discuss their problems or if parents feel the child is depressed or at risk they should seek mental health assistance, he advised.

"They also can monitor their internet use, the same way as you monitor their alcohol use."

* Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 (for young people aged 5 to 25).

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