The recent report on the Blue Whale game and its fatal outcomes, also threw open another dilemma for parents: If they were to nip this menace in the bud, they needed to first get their child separated from his or her beloved phone. A task that is found to be near impossible! From Tantrums, to wailing to suicide threats and attempts, children responded ferociously to the ‘no phone’ ban. Cell phone addiction or more precisely internet addiction on their respective smartphones is a cruel reality today!
Smart phone Addiction has now been defined in medical literature as a psychiatric disorder. It has been defined as “being immersed in smart phone use with no self-control, resulting in harmful consequences for self and others”.
The reaction to being withheld phone or internet privileges is akin to withdrawal symptoms of a drug addict!
Does your child exhibit any of these signs?
- Needs to have their cell phone with them all the time.
- Being online for hours on end without a sense of time.
- Failed attempts to use a mobile device less.
- Feelings of anxiety or being depressed.
- Preferring using a cell phone instead of spending time with family and friends.
- Feeling restless or irritable when a mobile phone or network is unreachable.
- Craving for the latest models of mobile devices and the newest applications or games.
What begins as a temporary behavioral abnormality, can have long term repercussions in cognitive and mental development. To begin with, the initial physical symptom could be loss of attention, distraction from outdoor activities, fatigue, irregular meal timings, snacking on junk food or craving for items seen online., itchy eyes, headaches and pain in neck, back and fingers. In the long run, a combination of these symptoms, leads to poor academic performance, lack of interest in outdoor activities and sports and even isolation from others.
The urge to get back to the phone may result in tasks completed in a hurry, superficially without attention to details. It can also lead to loss of creativity, thinking capacity and originality in the child. This would mean that we will be seeing a generation of kids who may not contribute to the society meaningfully!
The human brain grows and develops up to the age of 25, given the right kind of stimulus and intellectual activities. An over reliance on cell phones can have adverse effects on normal brain development. If continued unchecked, this ultimately could lead to decreased connectivity in parts of the brain that regulate emotions, decision-making, and impulse-control. This would result in behavioral changes and lead to compatibility issues with peers and friends. Resultant increased levels of social loneliness can have devastating consequences such as poor eating habits and high risk of use of alcohol, tobacco and recreational drugs. Getting hooked on to the phone can result in health issues such as neck pain, back pain due to the odd posture while using the phone continuously, visual imbalances and headache.
Results of teen cell phone addiction – Facts and Numbers
(According to Common Sense Media recent Addiction Research about teenage cell phone addiction)
|78% of teens check their devices at least hourly;|
|59% of parents feel their teens are addicted to their cell phones;|
|50% of teenagers admit that they are addicted to their mobile devices;|
|1/3 of teen kids very often or occasionally try to cut down on time spent on mobile device;|
|72% of teens feel the need to immediately respond to texts, social-networking messages and other notifications.|
|92% of teens say that they go online daily, while 24% consider themselves to be online “almost constantly.”|
|Over half of teenagers go online many times a day.|
|94% of teenagers access the Internet via their smartphones at least once a day, if not more.|
|Facebook is the most-commonly visited social media site for teens (71%), followed by Instagram (52%), then Snapchat (44%).|
Youngsters today frequent many different social media–such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter–which allow them to connect with their friends as well as idols whom they tend to “follow”. On the positive side these applications provide the user with the ability to connect with others all around the world and access news and information. Conversely they also can lead to compulsive and problematic cell phone use, adopting of wrong lifestyle choices led by the celebrities they follow, cyber bullying, sexting, and Facebook depression – a term coined by researchers to define the depression associated with excessive social media use.
What then is the solution which Parents can adopt?
Dependency on cell phones and social media addiction is not easy to deal with, but being a parent, you are the best person to help your child to overcome the obsession.
Let’s look at some possible remedies:
- For starters any parent should be considered as a good friend by his/her child. Be ready to talk, help and support your kid in any situation. Encourage frequent dialogue and discussions on various topics, that could range from mundane day to day happenings to larger social issues. Do not berate the child at any time for his or her opinion.
- Treat your child as you would treat an adult – a person equal to you. Show your teenage son or daughter how to be in charge of his/her behavior.
- At the same time, show your authority. You are the parent – so it’s you who sets the rules.
- Become a positive example. Use your own cell phone less and pay more attention to the members of your family.
- Set a limit on the money that you give out monthly for your child’s phone/ internet expense.
- Another good solution is choosing a monthly data plan with a set limit on the Internet usage available. Once the allotment runs out, the Internet will be disconnected. Therefore, the child will use cell phone less frequently and more thoughtfully.
- Monitor their mobile activity.
If you are the parent of a younger child, you could do the following:
- You might not buy a mobile phone until your kid is at least at Standard 6 or 7th., and then also only if the academic performance is satisfactory.
- Monthly cell phone bills to be paid out of his or her own pocket money.
- One of the most common scene in current day scenario is that the young mothers often give their phone or tabs to their toddlers, to keep them quiet and distracted so that they can have their personal time. And often, they are proud that the kid has learned to un-lock the phone / open the browser or App. Consciously, we should refrain from such activities.
At the Pre-school age (up to 4years) the brain growth is tremendous and normal development would be hampered, apart from inducing Smart phone addiction from a tender age!
Some strict home rules may be very useful to follow:
- Set limits on using a mobile phone when a child is supposed to study for important school tests and projects. Social media and texting shouldn’t distract the attention of your kid from primary tasks. Education comes first.
- Going a step further you could monitor their social activity with the help of parental control software for Smart phones and android tablets.
- Make a schedule of home life. A child should have a certain period of time before he/she will be allowed to use a cell phone. Most likely, a Student will have his/her school tasks and home duties done to have a chance to get back online sooner. This also makes a child more disciplined.
- Another way is to forbid using cell phones during meals. A dinner should be spent with a family, when all members share news, talk and laugh, enjoying the time spent together. So all mobile devices should be put aside or turned off. This rule also works for all family trips, time spent hiking, visiting places of interest, travelling,
Show your child that life around us is far more interesting and colorful than any social media. Time spent with the family is precious and worth cherishing. It is pertinent that the parent does not panic and reacts negatively on finding any real or perceived issue related to their child’s use of cell phones and social media. It is up to you to lead your child on the right path and teach him/her the correct way to utilize the tools available at their disposal.
It is important to understand the reality that today’s children have greater exposure to life than the previous generations. It is important to communicate and establish confidence and trust at a much earlier age! Over disciplining doesn’t work. Teach your kids the beauty and worthiness of life. In this fast paced life, all that the school teaches is competition. The kid should understand the meaning of life, value it, cherish it and celebrate it. We have won a race to be born as humans! We are gifted to be born in current era of democracy and technological evolution. Somewhere in the process, we have lost our sensibilities to value our own life. As parents or teachers in school, every effort should be made to realize the value of life, help the kids understand that the problems are temporary! The child should be taught to handle issues rather than fear them.
While the internet can be tool of deceit and harm, it is also a vast store of knowledge and information, it is there to stay. The Blue whale tragedy should serve as an eye-opener to the harsh reality that our kids are exposed. Spend more time with your children, understand and help them cope up with the stress of life. In the process, help them understand that ‘life is beautiful’, the ultimate solution to crisis!