By Anusha Ashwin
Raising a child in a technology-enabled smart world just got more challenging. The first-of-its-kind incidence of death of a 14-year-old boy in Mumbai, India has brought the issue to fore, yet again. The teen reportedly committed suicide owing to depression and submitting his life to the last dare of a certain Blue Whale Suicidal Game developed by a Russian youth.
Increasingly, children all over the globe are addicted to smartphones and its gaming applications and most parents are not even aware of what impact it has on the child. Since the advent of apps in smartphones, the addiction to gaming, blogging, and other socially engaging application has expanded the screen time of children. Definitely, the widespread access to smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles, and laptops is causing concern amongst parents and academicians. The content available on such applications have been proved to have a negative influence on a child’s development. It is proved to have adverse neurological and psychological impact on the child. The right social and emotional development of a child in today’s tech-age is also questioned at large?
Voice&Data approached some of the country’s leading child psychologists to understand and put together information on the possible impact of smartphone and its applications on the very young.
“The rising use and addiction of apps like Pokémon Go, Clash of Clans, Candy Crush, Facebook and many more is slowly driving users to the brink of insanity. The recent incident of suicide and many incidences of over-obsession for the latest game Pokémon Go is an alarming example. The Internet is an endless buffet of videos, online games, e-shopping and social media activities. Spending too much time online is causing mental illness in children and youngsters – loneliness, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and heightened aggression are some of the possible issues faced by individuals who may overuse the internet,” says Neha Patel. Patel has 20 years of experience working with children and adults as a counsellor, psychologist and psychotherapist.
Patel is a popular counsellor, and of late, she has seen an increasing demand for online counselling services on the newly launched service aggregator BookMeIn. Elucidating a case study, Patel describes, “As mental health professionals, we are dealing with a whole range of new issues that are being presented to us. Addiction to gaming is one of these. Recently, a 20-year-old boy was brought to me by his very concerned mother, as he was spending straight 48 hours on gaming. He had stopped going to college and would not even eat properly. He would refuse to step out of the house, as he remained glued to his device at home. When his parents tried to be strict with him and talked to him about this problem, he used to display bouts of intense anger and stubbornness. Over time, the anger escalated to physical violence and destruction of property as he began furiously tossing and throwing things at home and when the parent’s took his gaming device away he went to the extent of getting violent with them. He was showing actual signs of withdrawal similar to those displayed by alcohol or drug addicts. He had to be put on medication and with counselling and psychotherapy is now doing better as he has a deeper insight into his addiction, and his patterns.”
A recent study funded by the Indian Council for Medical Research on 2,750 subjects in the age group of 18-40 years in select urban communities across India too had showed an alarming rate of technology dependence. Unfortunately, the problem is only expected to worsen. As per reports, India has witnessed a significant growth in the number of people who are on the internet continuously surfing sites, watching videos, shopping or just peeking into other people’s profiles on social media platforms.
Another leading and certified psychologist with specializations in clinical psychology, counselling and child psychopathology, Simrat Kaur says, “Gaming apps such as Pokémon go and Candy Crush affect the same areas of the brain and in a similar way, as addictive substances and thereby cause addiction. Not only that, it compels them to compare their lives with others, causing frustration and discontentment. It makes children restless, as many young adults who regularly visit me, report difficulty relaxing after a gaming or social media session. They not only make kids unhappy but over the time avid users have also reported lower overall satisfaction in their lives. It can lead to fear of missing out, which is a phenomenon that occurs when you feel pressure to be doing what everyone else is doing, evoking anxiety and making adolescents insecure and distant from their parents.” Kaur has worked for many years with Indian Air Force to look after the mental health of air force officers and support staff. She also offers exclusive online consultation on telemedicine company Doctor Insta.
Sharing her experience, child psychologist Nandini Raman says, “Many young ones between the age of five and 10 years have done the extraordinary – of having learnt a game like chess, difficult classroom concepts, downloading educational videos, coding a game etc., on their own using YouTube videos, and various other apps that provide assistance and are very smart and intelligent kids overall. However, they lack the discretion of ‘how much’ is good enough and when to stop. Many a times, unsupervised time gets them hooked onto the gadget only to find them eventually being addicted onto it. I have also witnessed that the number of kids to be counselled has increased with the launch of Pokémon Go. The game had become dangerous to the child’s physical safety leave alone psychological wellbeing and overall health.”
Raman revealed that parents (on an average of 5 to 8 per week) bring students as young as enrolled in IV grade, who are hooked onto playing online games on the parent’s smartphones, iPads and tablets, and college students being hooked onto computer games, PlayStation and social media sites. Parents want to desperately get them ‘de-addicted’ and refocus on their priority — mainly academics and personal chores. Raman has more than 10 years of experience as a counselling psychologist and has her own practice with a website called iamfine.in.
Kanika Khosla a child psychologist with online mental health and wellness clinic called ePsyClinic, says, “Smartphones usage is a mixed bag. But this is truer for kids. I have seen more than 50 parent clients in last two months, who have come and discussed about their child being addicted to smartphone usage. The issue is that smartphone allows them to play but not run or exert themselves, it engages them but also makes them sedentary. The kind of world of things they get in smartphone are very difficult to be replicated in the real world. Hence, they start enjoying this virtual reality more. However, what it leads to is social disconnect, difficulty in holding communication, sedentary and unhealthy lifestyle and lack of enriching experience.”
Almost all psychologists are of the opinion that the usage of smartphones and apps bring a detrimental effect on the internal mechanism of the body, especially the brain. Globally, several studies have investigated the impact of mobile phone exposure on cognitive function in adults. However, the focus is more on adolescents because of the adverse effect on their developing nervous systems. Neurologists have explained that the temporal and the frontal lobes of the brain are still developing in a teen and they are the closest part to the ear. Research by psychologists indicate that both the temporal and frontal lobes actively develop during adolescence and are instrumental in aspects of advanced cognitive functioning. Ophthalmologists also have an opinion to this and have indicated that advancing myopia is a serious concern among children. The rise in number of children with myopia has a direct correlation with the usage of smartphones, say ophthalmologists. The increased usage also has the ability to suppress melatonin, the hormone that helps with sleep timing.
Increased usage of smartphones has another not-so-spoken-about adverse effect. Disturbing research from the University of Arizona in USA has discovered that the average phone has 10 times the number of bacteria that is found on a toilet seat! Which simply implies that smartphones can be a good source of bronchial infections in children.
On a parallel note, academicians believe that a child’s classroom attention has drastically reduced, and today’s generation believe that WhatsApp seems to be a more convenient option of sharing homework and assessments. The reception to a unilateral delivery of a lesson by teachers does not engage the children and the teaching preference is now toward gadgets that have visual and auditory overload.
Availability of consultants online like BookMeIn, Doctor Insta, and ePsyClinic has made the rehabilitation process easier and made it comfortable for the patients to connect with their doctors. Kanika Khosla says, “Through online counseling and re-focus therapies, we help the child to appreciate and value real connections, real games, sun- and sand-play more and we do this through positive reinforcement strategies.”
“In addition to the cases that come to the clinic, there are many seminars and sensitization lectures that psychologists conduct across schools and colleges in the city and also across the corporates now to create an awareness with the working parents on the ill effects of technology and its features as a double-edged sword,” expressed Nandini Raman.