For the purposes of this discussion, we need to define technology addiction. Like any other addiction, an addiction to the use of a cellphone or the Internet leads to interpersonal problems, the exclusion of participation in other activities, and an overly emotional attachment to the Internet, a game set of games, or a cellphone.
Technology addiction displays physical, emotional, and behavioural characteristics that can be detected by observation. Escapism from bullying may be one situation that causes a child or adolescent to spend excessive time using technology. One should note that some of the Internet sites that can be a source of bullying are also some of the most frequently used sites that indicate addiction or the beginning of addiction.
Physical aspects of Technology Addiction
The seriousness of technology addiction is indicated by scientific and medical studies and technology addiction statistics that include:
• Brain surface shrinkage over time as much as 20 percent depending on the amount of time a person uses some form of technology.
• Withdrawal symptoms include depression and emotional attachment to a particular website, game, or using the Internet on a PC or phone for more than five hours a day.
• About 7.5 percent of children over the age of 12 are considered to be addicted to the Internet in the United States.
A parent can detect the signs of technology addiction by:
• Observing how much time your child spends using the Internet or a cellphone. More than five hours is considered to be too much by paediatricians and physicians who have studied behaviour and addiction.
• Using the Internet, a social media site, or playing a game longer than intended.
• Using technology as an escape. This may be a sign that your child is being bullied at school.
• Loss of interest in other activities.
• Expressing feelings that social media friends are more important than family or other people.
• Demanding to have the newest and latest technology as soon as it is available.
• Observing your child using the cellphone to access the Internet at meals, while using the toilet, and waking up to check messages or websites.
• Seeing your child’s relationships with you, their siblings, and their friends in the community or from school become less important to your child than a particular game, website or social media site.
• Observing deterioration in your child’s performance at school due to your child’s preference to play a game, surf the web, or visit with friends at a particular social media site.
• Look for signs of euphoria that are not usual. If your child displays higher levels of euphoria while they use some form of technology and particularly after they use a form of technology there may be a problem.
• Anger, depression, withdrawal, and restlessness when not using technology is also a sign of potential and probable addiction.
• Catching your child lying about the amount of time they spend using technology.
• Finding your child stealing to buy the next version of a game or a particular set of software needed for their phone or PC. This usually takes the form of using a credit card that is taken from the parent’s purse or wallet.
• Experimentation with illegal drugs, prescription drugs, sex, or alcohol can accompany an addiction to some form of technology. The idea is that all addictions have the same chemical basis in the brain and one addiction that establishes the chemical pathway can potentially lead to other addictive behaviours.
Control and Treatment
Parents can do several things to prevent a potential addiction to technology:
• Set limits and boundaries. Talk to your children about using technology and the Internet safely. Set time limits for the use of technology.
• Limit the age that you get a cellphone for your child. Almost 100 percent of children in the United States have mobile phones. Fifty percent have smartphones.
• If just talking does not work, you can use a time limiting device or application. Many of the major Internet service providers offer a free add-on that will shut down the computer after your child has used it for a certain amount of time. There is a multitude of phone apps that do the same thing for phone use.
• As a parent you must plan to engage your child in other activities that do not include technology. Take the time to get your child outside and just play. Talk to them about how they feel and think. Get your child involved in an extracurricular activity, a youth group, a church group or a sport. The idea is to show your child that life is really about direct contact with people.
• If your child is old enough, get them a part-time job. Work is a necessary evil and early experience in the work environment builds people’s skills better than most activities. Most workplaces limit the use of technology.
• More and more child psychologists and paediatricians, as well as addiction experts, have noted a similarity between excessive and escapist use of technology and other forms of addiction. If necessary, you can have your child treated for their technology use issues.
• Treatment is covered by most insurance. There are in-house programs that offer treatment for children and adolescents that are addicted to using technology. A limited but growing number of psychologists and physicians have become aware of the problem and have developed options that teach your child to cope without the aid of technology.
Addiction to technology is a fact. One survey of adults indicates that the majority of adults would give up tobacco, alcohol, and chocolate rather than give up their cellphone. More than 7.5 percent of children in the United States have been determined to be addicted to some form of technology. The majority of these children and adolescents are addicted to their cellphone. Cellphone addiction increases with age and peaks in adolescence.
Research conducted by the American Psychiatric Association has defined the addiction to technology also as an Internet use disorder. The condition is real, has been documented to be an increasing problem, and can be treated.
Technology Addiction Statistics
In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Pediatrics both recommend that children between the ages of 6 and 18 years of age should only be allowed to use technology devices for up to 2 hours per day. That’s not what is happening in our society. Most teens use it four to five times longer than that every day.
These two organizations state that children under two years of age should not be exposed to technology at all and that children 3 to 5 years old should be restricted to using technology devices for only one hour per day.
Research from several different studies conducted by scientists forms the basis of these recommendations and is cited with links to the studies on the agency websites.
Findings in the studies determined that the use of technology by young children affected the way their brains developed and contributed to attention deficit disorder, cognitive delays, impaired ability to learn and also had a negative impact on the ability to self-regulate, increasing the likelihood of temper tantrums.
Other concerns were that use of technology could limit a child’s physical development due to a lack of movement during use. Movement enhances learning ability as well as the ability to focus and pay attention, so lack of movement would have a negative impact on literacy and academic development. One study claims that the use of technology in children under 12 is harmful to their development and learning capabilities.
The lack of movement during technology use can cause a child to become obese, contributing to major health problems and putting them at higher risk of early stroke, heart disease and other serious health issues.
Sleep deprivation, mental illness, aggression, digital dementia, and radiation emission are other major concerns cited by both agencies, due to findings from scientific studies.
Technology addiction was also cited, not just in the children but in their parents, which affects their relationship with their children. The primary concern is that parents are becoming more attached to technology and are detaching from their children. This causes the neglected children to become more emotionally attached to their electronic devices, thereby becoming even more addicted to their devices than their parents are, compounding the problem into an even more serious one. One study (Gentile, 2009) found that one in 11 children ages 8 to 18 is addicted to technology.
Tim Ferriss, author of “The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich,” makes similar suggestions to those of mental health professionals mentioned elsewhere in this article.
“Experiment with short periods of inaccessibility,” he says. Your life won’t implode. As with any addiction, there is a period of withdrawal and anxiety.”
He suggests setting Saturday as the day to not use your cell phone and email at all. On other days of the week, don’t allow yourself to check your email until 10 a.m. and only check it at regular intervals for the rest of the day, such as 2 p.m., 4 p.m. and maybe once in the evening. This will allow you to fully engage in other activities in between. Also in these interim periods, set your phone on Do Not Disturb. Once you are over the initial anxiety, you will be amazed at your lower stress level and how much more you can accomplish.
Technology Addiction is a serious condition that affects millions around the world without them even knowing they are afflicted with symptoms and signs of Technology Addiction. It is high time someone stood up and created awareness about Technology Addiction.