Addiction is not restricted to obviously harmful activities like smoking or drinking. Digital addiction is real and many of our children are addicted.
Sahana was a bright-eyed teenager until last year. She played football, participated in athletics and was doing well in studies.
She had been asking for a smart phone. Reema, her mother had promised to get her one after she completed class 8th. “When I promised, Sahana was in class two and 8th seemed far away. I wish I had promised it after class 10th,” shares Reema.
With the smart phone, Sahana has totally transformed. She is completely captivated by the virtual world. Social media, especially Instagram rules her day. From a happy kid, Sahana today is an extremely difficult, disobedient and an irritated child.
Her parents dread weekends and holidays. She is not studying, stopped playing and has gone into a vicious circle. Screaming and yelling for no apparent reason became her means of communication.
She is unable to handle the pressure of studies and the lure of social media. In fact, she uses social media is an escapism tactic to stay away from responsibilities. Sahana needs professional care, but she is adamant and uncooperative.
There are many such Sahanas today who are either totally entranced or on the verge of getting addicted to digital gadgets.
What is Digital Addiction?
Addiction is described as a pleasurable pursuit with negative consequences in the future. It is not restricted to obviously harmful activities like smoking or drinking. It could be an addiction to work, food or shopping, which primarily is not bad but if overindulged becomes harmful as happens with digital gadgets.
The book Internet Addiction in Children and Adolescents: Risk Factors, Assessment and Treatment by Dr. Kimberly S. Young PsyD (Editor), Dr. Nabuco De Abreu Cristiano PhD(Editor), explains as follows,
“Child and adolescents are especially at risk of problematic uses of interactive media, both because they are early and enthusiastic adopters of technology with which they are more facile than supervising adults, and because they have yet to develop executive brain functions such as impulse control, self-regulation, and future thinking.”
Prachi S Vaish, Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist, feels that stating today’s kids are seriously addicted to digital devices wouldn’t be correct. “Yes, it’s true that all the kids are ‘ hooked to’ them.”
According to her, digital devices have become essential for homework, keeping contact, and a resource for information.
The Strange Case of Digital Addiction
It is a strange case of having problems from a tool that kids need to use and become experts with. “Parents encourage their children to become adept with digital technology, both to thrive in schools that assign increasing amount of academic work online and to prepare them for digital workplace of the future,” explain Michael Rich, Michael Tsappis and Jill R. Kavanaugh in the book, Internet Addiction in Children and Adolescents: Risk Factors, Assessment and Treatment.
Digital devices establish a constant feedback homeostatic state in the person where something new is always just a click away. Kids get used to the constant thrill of reading/seeing something new and receiving instant feedback on the stuff they share.
“More accurately, it’s an addiction to the constant new stimuli rather than to the digital devices,” explains Prachi.
The problem is that the digital world is ever expanding, and it’s not going to end.
Reality of the Digital World
Digital gadgets possess unimaginable capacity to amuse, entertain and captivate by providing passive fun and distraction. It is easy for kids to be glued to these devices for long hours, which can result in serious physical, emotional and mental problems.
According to Prachi, spending long hours with these gadget’s results in craving for constant instant gratification and becomes a fertile ground for bullying due to ceaseless connection. The peer interaction that was restricted to few hours now happens 24×7.
Another important aspect is the anonymity or as Prachi puts it “the luxury of not having to talk in person allows for a completely free, devoid of social filters, expression of even negativity.” This can have serious repercussions.
Getting an Access to Digital Gadgets
At present, keeping a child away from the digital world is impossible. Though experts suggest delaying giving an access to gadgets, eventually parents have to give in.
Radhika Meganathan’s niece got access to mobiles and tablets when she was five years old. These were not hers exclusively but as a treat. Says Radhika, “She gets to play games on adults’ mobiles.”
Revathi Prasad ,a mother of twins, was fascinated to watch her sons figuring out the computer quite early with instructions. “They touched and felt and learnt so quickly,” They got access to a digital gadget at the age of nine years. It was an old smartphone without a SIM.
Her sons are fond of gaming. Revathi sometimes worries about them getting addicted, “but they enjoy immensely,” she adds.
Sumathy’s elder daughter got an access to a smartphone at 14 years while her younger one at the age of nine.
Managing Screen Time
Screens are not going anywhere and life without screens is impossible. Digital devices cannot be abandoned. Experts suggest striking a balance while using them is the only solution. Time spent on these devices should be one part of a child’s day and not limit other activities like reading books, playing outdoors and spending time with friends.
Radhika’s six-year-old niece is addicted to Lego and prefers to play with toys in spite of introduced to digital gadgets.
Revathi says, “I find it difficult to manage screen time especially because they are twins.” When she tells one of them to stop, the other says, “But I didn’t get my turn!”
“Time restrictions are ridiculous as gaming format is about charging to the next level and children play together across time zones. If they stop gaming, they quickly move to television. It is really hard to get them away from the screen,” she explains.
Digital time management and digital addiction becomes overwhelming especially at times of examinations. “During exams it’s a pressure point. There are times when I wish to discard the Wi-Fi all together but then all of us are so dependent on internet connectivity, so I hesitate.” Revathi adds.
Ways to manage screen time
Revathi tries to control and manage screen time by sending her kids for tuitions and encouraging physical play so that they spend as much time away from possible digital addiction. Her boys love basketball and cricket and so they go out and play on their own. “I read them books even if they don’t want to listen,” she adds.
Though managing screen time has been difficult for Sumathy, it isn’t overwhelming. “Some ground rules have helped”, she says. They have a mutually agreed on screen time and “the gadget is taken away after that time.”
Prachi feels that keeping kids away from digital gadgets is not a practical or reasonable solution. Establishing clear and firm time boundaries about the usage in the house are a good solution. “Eat meals together and banish devices from the table. Keep communication channels open and relaxed rather than making it a big deal otherwise you’ll force the kids to lie and hide,” she explains.
Symptoms of Digital Addiction
Speaking of digital addiction, Radhika shares that she has literally seen kids getting dull and cranky after playing in a digital setup. “No wonder it happens, imagine a child, playing the same thing over and over again, thereby not getting the chance to exercise and stimulate her natural intelligence. This will have lasting negative consequences all her life, so parents really must stop handing over the iPad for hours to their kids.”
Here is a list of symptoms,
- Lack of concentration
- Compulsion to check the phone repeatedly even when there is no ping.
- Shortened attention span
- Irritability when not receiving immediate gratification
- Staying online longer than intended or expected
- Avoiding tasks or work to spend more time on-screen
- Delaying everyday activities, mealtimes to check emails or messages
- Becoming irritated if someone interrupts online or smartphone activities
- Prefer to spend time communicating with people online instead of personal interaction
- Constantly thinking about getting online when off-line
- Feeling criticized by family or friends with any mention of screen-time
- Preferring virtual world than real world
- Being defensive and hide online activities
Teaching kids about drawing healthy boundaries is crucial, because kids are unaware of the dangers of the Internet. “Talk to them about cyber-crime incidents – not as a threat or scare but like a discussion. Let their mind wheels churn because only then will they understand what is okay and what isn’t. Try to bring it forth that just because it’s virtual and apparently anonymous, it doesn’t mean that it’s safe and harmless,” suggests Prachi.
Helping kids to understand the possible ways any information put on the Internet can be misused helps in coming up with certain safeguards together.
Today many parental control software solutions are available in the market to protect kids from cyber-crime, control screen time and even getting to know how the child is engaging on the Internet.
However, most of the time’s kids can always find a way around, says Prachi. “A better strategy is to teach kids self-control, which will help them even in the absence of external control.”
Sometimes a child or a teen is unable to handle the freedom and the distractions. In such cases, professional counselling can help. A good psychotherapist can teach coping skills to the child/teen to deal with impulsivity, mood swings and lack of self-control arising from digital addiction.
- Delay giving your child a digital gadget for as long as you can
- Don’t let the iPad or mobile become a babysitter
- Invest in play toys, board games and DIY kits
- Create family time every evening around dinner time when no digital gadgets are allowed
- Avoid enforcing rules instead focus on arriving at rules together with the child works
- Share articles on smart phone addiction being preachy
- Setting goals together with the child on performance helps automatically to controlled screen time, at least for teenagers
- Parents need to set examples of controlled screen time
- Sports are always a great way to channelize kids’ energy and keep them focused.
There always is a positive side. Says Revathi “Gaming has many positives like improved hand-eye coordination and use of intelligence. It is impossible for me to play the games these children play so easily. However, too much gaming can be problematic.”
Digitization is part of progress and even if we don’t like it is going to stay. By restricting children too much, we prevent them from being a part of this digital revolution and by indulging them we risk creating zombies. It’s a challenging time for parents and caretakers since many of us are addicted ourselves.
“If we want to children to stop, we need to switch off the Wi-Fi and the phone and TV. The question is will we do that? ”
The solution about finding engagement and entertainment without digital gadgets becomes imperative.
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