14-year-old Abhimanyu (name changed) quit school and studies after his parents refused to allow him to play Internet games.
Another 14-year-old Ridhima turns violent every time her mother takes her cell phone.
Now these two are not isolated cases, but just two common examples of how school kids are behaving these days. . The Internet Addiction is indeed taking on dangerous proportions and kids as young as nine-year-olds are facing serious psychiatric issues due to this.
It is not just Internet addiction but the aftermath of it that is bothering psychiatrists. Such children not only fare badly in their academic performance (and in extreme case fail) but most Internet addicts suffer from depression, anxiety and even substance abuse, they say.
In a recent study, researchers from Cardiff University in Britain found that 72 per cent of children and 89 per cent of adolescents have at least one device in their sleeping environment, and most use it near bedtime.
Sleep is an often undervalued but important part of children’s development. A regular lack of sleep has adverse effects on the physical and mental health, including poor diet, sedative behaviour, obesity, reduced immunity, stunted growth and mental health issues, says the study.
“With the ever-growing popularity of portable media devices, such as smartphones and tablets, the problem of poor sleep amongst children is set to get worse,” says Ben Carter from Cardiff University.
“Though there have been no official studies in India as such, we see the trend rising here too,” says psychiatrist Dr Manu Tiwari. “Parents often complaint about their kids spending a lot of time on computers or cell phones at the cost of their food, sleep and studies,” he says.
Internet addiction, informs Dr Tiwari, is of three kinds. One is Gaming Addiction (a person is hooked to a game just like gambling and works on reward principle), the second is Problematic Internet Use (in which a person is not able to control his/her urge to use Internet). When the Problematic Internet Use becomes serious it becomes an Internet Addiction Disorder, and that is when it needs both counseling and medicines.
Why do children and adolescents spend so much time on Internet? One wonders.
Experts inform that the reasons are psychological. “Those who are addicted to Internet often suffer from low self-esteem. Some have social anxieties and find it difficult to converse with real people so they live in virtual world wherein they can hide their identity. “Such children are often in bad mood and lack concentration and hence can’t study leading to poor results,” says Dr Tiwari. “The social networking sites work as virtual class rooms, where undercurrents of class room like proposing, chatting and bullying all happen. Most children are hooked to these,” he adds.
Apart from psychological issues, there are a number of physical effects too that Internet addiction results in. These include joint pains, vision and postural problems.
What can you do as a parent to arrest this addiction?
The good thing amidst all this is that if effective parenting skills are adopted the problem can be arrested at the root. This is because the initial push up to the children to use the Internet is given by parents and teachers only.
Parenting should be done in a manner that it doesn’t make children Internet addicts. Parents must limit the time a child can spend on Internet. They must tell their children that Internet is a tool, but it is not the be-all and end-all of life.
Also kids need to be diverted towards physical activities, which play an important role in personality development. They should also be encouraged to develop hobbies.
Parents need to be extra careful and monitor the behavior of their children. They should encourage children to meet real people. Also they should desist from giving in to all the demands of children,
Immediate gratification is not the answer as it reduces frustration tolerance levels, which then leads to violent behavior.
For Problematic Internet Use counseling is very important. Psychiatrists give Cognitive Behavourial Therapy to wean a child away from the Internet. Though a time-consuming process, it is very effective.
In case of Internet Addiction Disorder, both medication and counseling are required. It is treated like any other addiction. Medicines depend on underlying situation.