With children in all corners of the globe immersed in technology from ever-younger ages, it’s about time we reflected on the startling impact this is having on their development. It’s only by acknowledging the harm that digital addiction is having on our young population that we can understand how to best protect future generations.
According to The Conversation, it was back in 2006 that the American Journal of Psychiatry pushed for digital addiction to be more formally recognized. Since then, plenty of research on the topic of effects, recognition, and treatment of digital addiction, has been conducted by specialists in various fields.
Unsurprisingly, denials of the pervasiveness of digital addiction throughout this body of research are almost impossible to find. Instead, we’re simply treated to the addition of various new terms and abbreviations to our lexicon, including:
- Nomophobia: The fear of being without your phone
- FOMO: The Fear Of Missing Out
- PIU: Problematic Internet Use
- IGD: Internet Gaming Disorder
- IAD: Internet Addiction Disorder
Denying the problems we face when it comes to our children’s addiction to technology is foolish. The need to even introduce these new terms (and many others) makes this clear to see. Yet the response to what I’m inclined to call a digital addiction epidemic are barely skimming the surface. This is largely for two reasons.
First, the commercial weight of the tech behemoths profiteering from this epidemic is enough to bury any widespread access to treatment. After all, the bottom-line is all-important.
Second, the Internet holds a sentimentality traceable back to it’s founding. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, is pushing hard for access to the Internet to be classed as a human right. Once this happens, any kind of restriction of access to that right will become incredibly hard for governments to pass, even if those restrictions would benefit citizens.
All of this being said, you may still be reading without actually believing that digital addiction is a large problem for our children. To help convince you otherwise, below are references to a variety of studies and stories from a number of countries showing the consequences to our children from an ever-connected, digitally dependent world.
Japan: Online Life Can Dominate Everything Else
A survey by information security firm Digital Arts revealed that, to quote a fascinating Astro Awani article, “high school girls in Japan spend an average of seven hours per day on their mobile phones…with nearly 10% of them putting in at least 15 hours”. A 2013 government survey showed this to be an issue that’s affecting a startling “60% of young Japanese high school students”.
In the above video, therapist Nomura Kazutaka talks about the problems young Internet addicts face, from difficulty sleeping to being forced to drop out of school.
The Shanghai Mental Health Center found that Chinese children who have similar levels of addiction could be suffering from neurological alterations similar to those seen in alcohol, cannabis and cocaine addicts. The Independent reports:
“The results showed impairment of white matter fibres in the brain connecting regions involved in emotional processing, attention, decision making and cognitive control”.
Despite available treatments ranging from cognitive behavioral therapy to government-run technology “fasting” camps, changing this behavior will not be easy.
These are children and teenagers who have grown up in a society that encourages radical conformity. When Japanese International Economics student Kaz Aoyama spoke to Mashable in 2013 he explained,“they want to attain fame, but they want to keep their online persona separate from their real-life selves. They’re taught not to stand out too much, but they have this desire to do exactly that”.
And thus, a second life on the Internet is born.
Ireland: Late Night Web Sessions
The Net Children Go Mobile 2015 report found that 46% of Irish children (aged 9-16) had access to the Internet from their bedrooms, with 14% of those admitting to using the Net “a lot” after 9 pm. Of the children surveyed, the proportion who had come across something online which “bothered” them had doubled since 2011, to 1 in 5 (21% had even seen sexual images), with 13% admitting to being bullied online.
It’s this access to negative and dangerous content that rightly worries so many parents. This is understandable with the media awash with stories of teen suicides being linked to Ask.fm, and websites promoting anorexia in children.
“Many people, especially young people, find the desire to use Facebook or Twitter so strong that it’s affecting their personal relationships, their studies and often their jobs…Studies have shown that people with high usage of social media sites may have lower levels of self-esteem and have a higher incidence of depression”.
Shane Kelly, professional services manager with the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
According to Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Colin O’Gara, some “children are being introduced to Internet-connected technologies as soon as they can speak”, with excessive online game addiction in teens being a particularly worrying problem later on. Some dangers of this include:
- A persistent preoccupation with the game even when not playing
- Withdrawal symptoms
- A need to progressively spend longer and longer playing
- An inability to control time spent on the game
China: Military Style Boot Camps For Online Addicts
South of Beijing is one of several controversial, military-style boot camps designed to house and treat the extreme end of China’s 24 million digitally-addicted adolescents. Parents bring their children hundreds of miles to spend as long as is necessary in detentention; this is a last-ditch attempt to rescue them from almost sure self-destruction. One father, speaking to The Telegraph said:
“We can’t control him any more…We want him to understand what is happening to him, to heal, and for this nightmare to be over.”
Chen Fei, the young boy in question, started spending time in cyber cafes to play games, but his addiction soon pushed him to spend over 20 hours per day in front of screens.
Tao Ran, a psychiatrist for the People’s Liberation Army, tells The Telegraph about how this form of chronic Internet addiction is worse than heroin addiction. This may sound extreme, but with Chinese kids chopping off their own hands, and committing suicide to “join the heroes of the game [they] worshipped”, it’s not too hard to believe.
Tao explained further that 90% of patients suffer from severe depression, and that 58% of addicted children had attacked their parents, going on to say;
“It destroys relationships and deteriorates the body without the person knowing. All of them have eyesight and back problems and suffer from eating disorders. In addition, we have discovered that their brain capacity is reduced by eight per cent, and the psychological afflictions are serious. If someone is spending six hours or more on the Internet, we consider that to be an addiction.”
Although there is disagreement over whether we can equate digital addiction to substance addiction, it’s clear that an increasing number of parents are reaching their end of their tether, resorting to ever-extreme, expensive (and sometimes dubious) treatments to help their children.
USA: Addiction With Psychosis-Like Symptoms
According to one Harriss Interactive survey, 23% of American youths (8-18) feel addicted to video games. Some of these young addicts end up showing symptoms of psychosis after marathon gaming sessions and months of addiction. Daniel Petric shot his father and murdered his mother for taking away his new Halo 3 video game. Shawn Woolley reportedly committed suicide over an Everquest game.
Although other factors, such as learning difficulties or mental illness, may be contributing factors in cases like these, the idea that the intensity and stimulation of video games could exacerbate the situation is a valid point
Former Internet addict Andrew Fulton told Today, “It’s really like a therapeutic release. All that social anxiety I felt in school just went away because I could be whoever I wanted to be. It’s kind of like a full-body buzz”.
Chasing this buzz ended up costing Andrew 16 hours per day. To ensure he had the time to play video games, he would skip school and forego eating. Before long his parents admitted to barely recognizing their “shell of a son”.
To combat this problem, rehab clinics are opening up around the country to help kids to completely disconnect, immerse themselves in nature, healthy eating, and partake in activities such as yoga, hiking and other forms of exercise.
What to Do If Your Kid is Addicted
As you can see, Internet addiction in children and teens (however it’s defined) is not something to be ignored. This is a growing problem, causing not just mood swings and bags under the eyes, but dangerous neurological and psychological problems.
In terms of recognizing internet and digital addiction in your own children, Jeanene Swanson on The Fix wrote that symptoms include; “compulsive use, a preoccupation with being online, lying or hiding the extent or nature of the Internet [or game] use, and an inability to control or curb it”. She goes on to quote addiction therapist Liz Karter on texting addiction;
“The symptoms of texting addiction are preoccupation with the digital device, craving to spend more and more time online [or] texting, secretive behavior, [and] mood swings”
As it turns out, those under the age of 25 (“digital natives”) are most susceptible to this form of addiction, leading to an increased risk of substance abuse (and other addictions, including porn), anxiety disorders, depression, social disorders, poor nutrition, arthritic fingers and, back and neck problems, among other things.
In the early stages of digital addiction, using some tried and tested methods for changing habits (and developing micro-habits) can be all that’s needed. We’ve written about apps that can help with this, as well as how to track smartphone usage before.
If this fails to help, asking your doctor to refer you to a trained addiction therapist or psychologist will be the best route to take.
At what stage do you think a child is addicted to the internet, and at which stage is it your duty to step in and curb that addiction? If you have any relevant stories to share on this topic, please post these in the comments below.
Image Credits: addicted to internet via Shutterstock