Excessive Internet/gaming/mobile addiction, a worrying trend even in pre-Covid days, has reached new heights during the pandemic, say psychologists and counsellors, as many children who went online for classes and social interaction turned into compulsive addicts.
A 17-year-old Delhi student was brought to the AIIMS Behavioral Addiction Clinic (BAC) after he failed his exams. His parents, both working professionals in full work-from-home mode, were unaware that their studious, engineering-aspirant son had got hopelessly addicted to online gaming during the lockdown.
In another instance, an adolescent with severe Internet addiction got so agitated when his parents suggested counselling that he got physically violent with his father. A four-year-old at an online school refuses to hold the pencil to write alphabets; she agrees only to tap out letters on-screen.
“As the use of technology grew and the Internet became cheaper and more accessible, we expected to have an uphill battle ahead of us. But what Covid has done is accelerated the situation to a point where we would otherwise have been five years later,” says Yatan Pal Singh Balhara, additional professor-psychiatry at BAC.
Technology addiction is playing out in children in terms of declining academic performance, sleep and eating issues, reduced social/family interactions, mood disorders, and in some cases, physical violence and self-harm.
The pandemic has been a facilitator, increasing screen time because of classes/work and giving people reasons to engage in these behaviours. Social media has been a boon in terms of connecting with people but problematic behaviour is not about hours online; it’s about children losing control and not being able to stop, says Balhara. He has seen a multiple-fold increase in cases, while at Bengaluru’s NIMHANS SHUT (Service for Healthy Use of Technology) clinic, cases have nearly doubled every week.
“Several parents are asking if their children can be put in rehab,” said Manoj Kumar Sharma, coordinator at SHUT. Some children start with the intention of interacting online with their peers; in some months they become violent and abusive if their gadgets are taken away. “Sometimes children are consciously creating trouble between parents so that their attention is diverted from their addiction,” said Sharma.
Various global studies, including a paper called ‘The impact of Covid-19 lockdown on Internet use and escapism in adolescents’, indicate that, regardless of the country , the Covid-19 outbreak has had a significant effect on adolescent Internet use and psychosocial well-being.
Psychologist Geetanjali Kumar, who was contacted by the frantic father of the four-year-old who refuses to hold the pencil, said such cases have gone up by 50-60%. “In almost every other case, I’m seeing some impact of gadgets. Parents are often unable to control their children. They need to walk the talk.”
Covid will have its impact. But parents, educationists need to use it to educate kids about the positive effects of social media,” said psychiatrist Samir Parikh.