It comes as no secret that the internet has pervaded every aspect of our lives. Society as we know it today would struggle to function without it. Our children spend at least some part of every day at school using online resources and within commerce, health, politics and law it has become an indispensable tool. Having said that, it is a matter of great concern that internet-use disorder or internet addiction, is about to become classified as a mental health issue.
At this time the classification will be that the issue warrants further study, but psychologists are already warning of a generation of “screen addicted” children that display all of the symptoms of any other addiction. Addictive behavior can be judged by the reaction when access is withdrawn. In this case we are seeing children as young as seven going through depression, irritability, lack of appetite, and even emotional withdrawal when access to connected devices such as Smartphones, gaming consoles and computers is withdrawn. These are the classic symptoms of withdrawal from just about any type of addiction.
Much of the preliminary attention has been focused on internet gaming and quite rightly so. Internet gaming addiction and its consequences have been felt by parents for years. Many of the games consist of levels that the participant must get through to access the next level. Failure to accomplish the requirements of a level will set the player back to the beginning when the allowed number of “lives” has been expended. Classic examples of these types of games are the Super Mario games which have been around for years and some of the later games like Minecraft. The number of expensive devices that have been damaged due to frustration and anger would make an interesting statistic.
Some experts, whilst agreeing that internet gaming addiction has become a serious problem, are drawing attention to the fact that internet addiction is not just restricted to this area. With the rise of the Smartphone and the Tablet PC has come the ability to stay connected to the internet 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This is more about over engagement with connected devices and constant use of some of the social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Young people, who have their access to connected devices withdrawn, feel an immediate sense of being isolated from what is going on in the world and from their friends, because communicating on these social media platforms has to a certain extent, become their world. The draw of anonymity, escape from reality and the decrease of inhibiting factors offered by the internet can be almost irresistible.
Professor Mike Kyrios from Swinburne University of Technology has been a Child Psychologist for 15 years and is one of the people driving the request for broadening the focus of studies into internet-use disorder. He says that ”With kids, gaming is an obvious issue. These games are very addictive as they invoke an obsession with rising through the levels and also cause frustration and outbursts of anger when this is not achieved. But overall technology use could be a potential problem,’ and is particularly worried about children with underlying obsessive compulsive disorders. Guidelines on diagnosis and proper treatment of this disorder should be brought forward as soon as possible.
In the meantime, many parents are looking to find the best way of dealing with children and teenagers who are over-engaged or addicted to the internet. Advice for parents is that they need to take control from the outset and manage an environment in the home where:-
- Access to the internet is a privilege that needs to be earned and not a right.
- No child under 15 is allowed a Smartphone or other device that facilitates constant connection to the internet and is not allowed a social media account on sites like Facebook
- Online gaming is restricted to a maximum of one hour per day
- Computers, games consoles and other connected devices are kept out of a child’s bedroom and the inbuilt parental controls on these devices are utilized.
One other thing for parents to consider is that it is all too easy to keep children quiet by allowing them online access, but the addiction-type consequences can backfire. Providing stimulating family activities that do not require internet access is one way to lessen any desire to be constantly online that your children might have.