Screen addiction is not a pretty picture. Children using gadgets 24/7 are showing some pretty negative symptoms. The debate has been going on for a while, but the new findings are getting positively nasty, as the Sydney Morning Herald reports
The Sun-Herald (Sydney Morning Herald weekend version) has spoken to parents of children as young as seven who are aggressive, irritable and hostile when deprived of their iPads or laptops. Psychologists argue video game and Internet addictions share the characteristics of other addictions, including emotional shutdown, lack of concentration and withdrawal symptoms if the gadgets are removed.
Other fallout can include devastating impacts for children and families as social interaction and even food are neglected in favour of the virtual worlds the children inhabit.
Australian experts contributed to the Australian Psychological Society's submission to the international manual, supporting the inclusion of an addiction focused on Internet gaming.
This is likely to be an interesting call in more ways than one. In an electronic-dependent society, drawing the line between an addiction and necessary exposure and skills isn’t going to be easy. Kids learn how to use devices and are then told they can’t use them because they’re bad for them? How are they supposed to distinguish between good and bad usage, when they’ll see their parents, other kids and adults glued to electronics everywhere they go? Every parent knows what happens when you take toys away, too.
The health issues are obvious enough. Nobody could call being glued to a screen for hours, let alone days, healthy.
The Sydney Morning Herald continues:
Commentary in the United States about the move has raised the spectre of children being over-treated and even medicated for playing computer games.
But some Australian psychologists argue there should be an even broader diagnosis of Internet-use addiction, allowing proper treatment of children obsessed by other technologies such as texting and a proliferation of devices such as iPads, tablets and Nintendo DS.
If you consider the reaction to ADHD and the medication controversy it created, this could be a much bigger issue. Over-diagnosis was the main accusation, but it was followed up by a messy debate which was never really resolved. To this day it’s an issue.
Parental controls on devices are a likely and probably a safer and less likely to be resented option. Any gadget can be turned off. They’d be easy enough to organise with some relatively simple software adapted from the TV parental controls. You could even simply set an “OFF time” for the electronic menagerie, particularly wireless gear. That’d take two lines of code.
The issue on a psychiatric level is apparently being “included for further study”, but there’s no indication of how long a study would take. Whenever this happens, it will then have to be turned into a practical working proposition for diagnosis and treatment. Nothing like “procedure” to really drag the chain. Awareness would be one option which could be carried out immediately, hence this article.
Whatever the solutions, let’s hope they work. This sort of dysfunctional approach to screens is bad, but something does have to be done. A generation of screen zombies in rehab doesn’t bear thinking about.