Digital addiction—an alarming public health concern

30 % children in India suffer from digital addiction including screen dependency disorder (SDD)

Children in India have become ‘highly addicted’ to the internet or digital platforms so much so that it has hampered their normal growth and behaviour, doctors have warned.

According to psychiatrists, nearly 30 percent children in India have some form of digital or internet addiction amid rapid technological advances in the country.

The alarming trend has given rise to a serious public health issue which doctors refer as screen dependency disorder (SDD).

It starts with screen-related addictive behaviour which is related to gaming, social media and other online material.

“Addiction ranges from simple chatting, excessive online shopping, viewing pornography or gaming. Some are even suffering from selfie obsession which makes their body language and behaviour abnormal. The percentage of such cases is huge as it affects nearly 30 percent children in India,” Dr Avinash Desousa, leading psychiatrist and psychotherapist told Health Wire.

“We see cases of this phenomenon regularly at our clinics. The disorder is mostly related to smart phones these days because children feel connected to large number of people through smart phones. They also feel that it all happens as per their will and control so they become enthusiastic about it. Face to face conversations also seem to be obsolete for them,” he said

Dr Desousa, who has authored a book Parenting in Digital Age and some other publications on child psychiatry, said that people especially children see smart phone as a sort of way out to their loneliness.

“Graphics and pleasant visualisation on internet also play a role,” he said.

According to him, some mental and neurological problems also manifest into screen dependency disorder (SDD) which is an additional challenge for parents.

“The disorder leads to serious behavioural and development changes among children like losing interest in studies and disturbed sleep cycle. It also affects other daily activities like eating, playing and socialising interaction among the teenagers,” Dr Desousa said.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also classified ‘gaming disorder’ as a mental health condition which has again brought the issue into focus.

The children, who spent most of their time with electronic gadgets like mobile phones, video games and laptop, are prone to get mental imbalance.

They experience problems in starting and completing routine activities in a timely manner. They avoid social interactions and do not reciprocate a social gesture.

Most of the children get irritated when their parents ask them to stop using mobile phones or playing games.

National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bengaluru has also started a dedicated center Service for Healthy Use of Technology (SHUT) to help such children.

The excessive use of screen time by children has alarmed many psychiatrists and neurologists as it has given rise to significant concern over children’s physical, psychosocial, biological, and other medical outcomes.

Doctors of NIMHANS said that excessive use of internet has adversely affected dietary habits and physical activities of large number of children.

“The Institute receives 5 to 6 such young patients every week. They complain of insomnia, sleep apnea, headache, weight gain, weight loss, and related problems,” they said adding that the disorder also emerges as neurogenetic, abnormal neural tissue and neural function as well.

The Journal of the International Child Neurology Association (JICNA) has also published a study in 2017 where they say that SDDs had become a new challenge for child neurology.

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