A friend’s 11-year-old son had trouble with his phone for about two days. There was a technical glitch with the instrument and so he was forced off the grid for 41 hours. When he got his phone to work again, he had several messages on his various social media applications—2,149 messages to be precise.
It took him a few hours of uninterrupted, compulsive effort to scan through the messages and feel ‘back in the loop’ again. Meals were put on hold, interaction at home was put on hold; even the urge to visit the washroom was suppressed for a couple of hours.
OPD for screen addiction
Recognising the need to address disorders from growing addiction to smartphones and video games, the All India Institute of Medical Science has recently set up a special psychiatry OPD for people hooked to their screens.
This Behavioural Addiction Clinic reports that many of their patients are school and college students. The obvious fallout from internet and social media addiction for students is a drastic drop in academic attention, interest and performance. Dr Balhara and Dr Bhardwaj who head the OPD cite the case of a 16-year-old who was at the top of his class, till his parents bought him a gaming console. In his next and final year of school, he failed his examinations and is now being treated for depression and anxiety.
“Substance abuse is also common among cyber addicts,” says Balhara.
The effect of screen addiction touched a new low when in February 2017 the media reported a case of two brothers hooked to social media and gaming. The boys had no time for meals, for bathing or changing their clothes. Studies were a far cry. They reportedly ignored phone calls, the doorbell and thieves who cleaned out their house on two occasions. The most extreme fallout of their addiction was that they’d begun to urinate and defecate in their pants, while gaming.
The brothers were admitted and treated for a month at the psychiatry ward of RML hospital to loosen the hold of their addiction and bring them back to basics.
Emphasising the real
As virtual technology becomes increasingly engaging and ‘real’ in feel, it wields greater and greater power to pull us into its grip. Young developing minds are seriously susceptible to what is proving to be a social and societal malaise. Here’s where parents may step in to steer their children gently towards the real.
“No phone” time zones have to be discussed and implemented. Devices may be taken away at night. Meal times have to be strictly “no screen” zones both for child and parent alike. The BBC reported a study in April 2017 where over 80 per cent of the youngsters surveyed had asked their parents to stop using smartphones at mealtimes. Children were feeling ignored and family life was disrupted, even harmed.
An hour and half of physical playtime at the least—either at a park or in a special interest class such as dancing, sport or martial arts, is a necessity for children of all ages. Parents who are working could start the class off for the child during a weekend or an extended holiday break at work. This allows them time to know other children and parents involved in the class with whom the dynamics of taking the child to and fro may become a possibility once they return to work.
Meals, sleep, exercise and hygiene have to be in order, for parent and child. These are the fundamental markers that distinguish the real from the virtual.