Gaming addiction

Smartphones = The art of smart parenting  

Keep an eye on your children’s digital dalliance – gadget abuse and internet addiction
– and save them from falling prey to gaming challenges.

A mother of two teenagers, Nidhi Pramod had always been wary of the smartphone and still prefers to keep it at arm’s length, and for obvious reasons. The humble gadget that can fit into her palm had knocked her children – Rehaan, 15, and Vivaan, 13 – off their feet in no time. The duo preferred spending most of their waking up hours in its company, much to her chagrin. Annoyed and alarmed at their gadget fascination, Pramod quickly sought intervention, fearing the worst. “I was perturbed by their PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) gaming addiction. It had caught my attention and set the alarm bells ringing. What starts with simple gaming can go a bit too far. Every day there’s a new internet challenge that crops up, from Momo to Keke, from Blue Whale to Tide Pod, and children end up falling for them, losing their lives in a bitter trade-off for momentary pleasure,” says Pramod on how she nipped the problem in the bud and cut short her kids’ digital dalliance – gadget abuse and internet addiction and saved them from falling prey to internet challenges.

Social media, online videos, and the Internet have a major influence on this generation, becoming their most preferred mode of communication, and at times, posing risks that can lead to cyberbullying and at-risk behaviours such as falling for numerous Internet challenges. “There are a few teenagers and young adults who are locked in the throes of their gadgets, vying for the likes, comments of their peers to their social media posts. Social media has a large influence on a teenager or young adult’s social acceptance because it meets the immediate need for gratification,” explains Dr Keerthi Pai, Clinical Psychologist, Apollo Hospitals in Chennai, adding that a lot depends on the neuropsychological and socio-cultural aspect that makes them vulnerable to such internet challenges.

Giving a rundown of the scientific reasoning that causes adolescents to fall prey to digital monsters, accept and perform these internet challenges, Dr Sameer Malhotra, Director, Dept. of Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences, Max Hospitals, says, “In adolescents, the brain is in the developmental stage and Prefrontal cortex (the region responsible for control) is still not mature. Also challenging and thrilling games stimulate the dopamine reward pathways in the brain predisposing the user to become more and more dependent on the game. Also, low serotonin in the brain can trigger feelings of emptiness/loneliness/low self-esteem, predisposing one to take up challenges and spend a lot of time on mobile/internet/such games.”

A thorough clinical assessment and a series of neuro-psychological tests gave an insight to the brain’s functioning of Pramod’s children, and the psychologist understood that the cure lies in digital detox and over a period of six months, the children were happily off the gadgets, making a deliberate effort to stay away from the hazards posed by digital overexposure. “Dealing with such problems often involve medical management (administering anti-obsessive, anti-depressant and at times, antipsychotic drugs) as well as psychological management that includes psychotherapy, behaviour therapy, cognitive behaviour therapy, and family counselling to realise what makes children dependent on phones and social media for survival,” says Dr Pai. The sooner the treatment starts, better and quicker are chances of recovering from the onslaught of digital invasion in their lives.

For the uninitiated, an internet challenge is a phenomenon where internet users record themselves taking a challenge like dancing along a moving vehicle, or gulping a capsule of detergent and then distributing the resulting video through social media sites, or undertaking self-harming dares such as Momo and Blue Whale, which become increasingly risky as the game progresses and finally ends with suicide challenge.
Listing out the psychological reasons behind this behaviour of teens and young adults, Clinical Psychologist Devanshi Sharma Narang says, “It arises from their need for affiliation, acceptance and a sense of superiority or belongingness among their peers. Adolescents tend to seek approval from others in whatever they do to be a part of any group that may quadruple their chances for accepting risks and challenges etc., and win attention and appreciation.”

Teens and young adults who have a personality disorder are also at high risk. “Such individuals have impulse dyscontrol. The adrenaline rush makes them get into self-injurious behaviour. They don’t look at the consequences,” says Dr Pai while Dr Malhotra adds, “Fragile self-esteem and impulse dyscontrol, lack of clear aim/purpose, underlying depression/feelings of loneliness, substance use, disturbed family environment makes children more vulnerable, and more likely to fall prey to such online threats.”

The most common signs are a sudden change in the behaviour of a child. “If a child suddenly starts avoiding you all together, or he/ she is found awake at night when normally he/she would be asleep, or they start seeing horror movies or is constantly unhappy and looks worried with sudden outbursts of anger directed at themselves or others, then it is a sign of worry. The more ominous signs to watch out for are injury marks which may be either self-inflicted or sudden extreme levels of aggression or suicidal thoughts expressed by the child,” says Dr Tina Goel, a paediatrician.

Dr Pai says this digital addiction and gadget abuse is not class-specific as now even parents who hail from modest background don’t mind indulging their children with such costly gadgets without realising how these are only adding to their parenting woes. Apart from contingency management where parents are in control of the situation, and not guided by their children’s whims and fancies, she urges parents to monitor their children’s online and social media activity to ensure they are not engaging in any Internet challenge or game. “Parents should be alert and keep their eyes open for unusually secretive behaviour, mostly related to their kids’ online activity and if there’s a sudden increase in the time they spend online, especially social media or if they notice that the child changes screens on their device when approached. If a parent fears that the child is at risk, they must get professional help right away,” she says.

Apart from installing a cyber/mobile parenting software which helps parents in monitoring the online activity of children, the key lies in communication. “The children in this age are vulnerable to every bullying and cyberbullying is no exception. The best help can be by listening to the child and by talking to them. We need to be able to spot the signs and talk to the children and assure them that at all stages we are with them,” says Dr Goel. Always remember a stitch in time saves nine. So act now.

Signs to watch out for
* Withdrawal from family interactions
* Disturbed sleep-wake cycle
* Growing disobedience and disrespect
* Disorganized lifestyle
* Stubbornness
* Irritability
* Anger outbursts
* Falling grades, neglecting academics and missing school
(In case of any of these symptoms, do not hesitate in seeking timely professional psychiatric help)

How to nip the problem in the bud stage
* Parents should try and be good role models, and help their children define aim and meaning to life
* Inculcate a sense of self-discipline
* Promote a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, and a healthy diet
* Maintain a healthy environment at home
* Give ample time to the child and try to make the child feel wanted and loved
* Fix screen time
* Encourage physical sports/ constructive hobbies suiting the child’s temperament

(Photo by Zhang Kaiyv from Pexels)


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