Psychiatrists warn against internet addiction in children

Recognizing symptoms and seeking immediate medical attention are paramount, experts say

Recognizing symptoms and seeking immediate medical attention are paramount, experts say

The majority of the 67 individuals who entered Government Omandurar Medical College Hospital’s Internet Deaddiction Clinic were adults. But what was shocking to the psychiatrists on duty was that 10 of them were five to 10 years old and 13 of them 11 to 18 years old.

Among them was a 14-year-old boy, brought in by his mother with complaints of abnormal hand movements, waking up late at night to play mobile games, academic decline and lack of interest in writing the board exams. The boy stayed up until 3 a.m. to play mobile games and compete with friends, according to doctors. He had lost weight and his appetite had diminished.

When assessed at the center, he appeared thin for his age. He avoided eye contact and answered only in monosyllabic. The treatment was started; he was regularly counseled once every four days and his gadget use was limited to one hour a day. His progress was monitored. He has also started taking drugs. Eventually, his abnormal hand movements subsided and his appetite improved, psychiatrists said.

Malar Moses, associate professor and chief of psychiatry, Government Omandurar Medical College Hospital, said the use of gadgets had become a necessity for children and adolescents due to the provision of online classes during the pandemic. However, many became addicted to these gadgets. As a result, they are less involved in studies, experience sleep disturbances, anger problems, social withdrawal and have reduced their interaction with family members.

“The clinic, which launched on December 13, 2021, has dealt with clients with excessive use of the internet in various forms. This includes video games, social media, online shopping, online gambling and online pornography. Some are victims of cyberbullying and suffer from sleep disturbances, depression, anxiety, strained interpersonal relationships, poor school or work performance,” she said.

She pointed to the habit of giving gadgets to toddlers to watch nursery rhymes while they are being fed. “We find speech delay in toddlers due to high internet usage. There is delay in saying even the basic words – amma and appa† We need to reduce all screens, including children’s television,” she stressed.

Of the 67 clients seen in the clinic, 23 were children (15 boys and eight girls) and 44 adults (39 men and five women).

“One of our assistant professors, Dr. Mathivanan, developed an Internet Addiction Scale that is culturally appropriate for our client population. Clients are assessed clinically and divided into mild, moderate, and severe categories based on the severity of their symptoms. category, individual treatment plans are established,” said Dr. Moses.

The clinic offered psychotherapy and group therapy as part of Internet addiction management. Relaxation techniques were taught to increase psychological resilience. If necessary, intervention of the family was given. In severe circumstances, anxiolytics or anti-anxiety drugs were prescribed and followed up regularly, she added.

R. Jayanthi, dean of Government Omandurar Medical College Hospital, said recognizing the symptoms early was paramount. “Parents have a huge responsibility to create a conducive environment for children and to pay attention to them when they use any device, be it a simple gaming device or a computer or mobile phone. If they discover any abnormal behavior, they should seek immediate medical attention. This is the first step as identifying symptoms and seeking medical attention early is crucial,” she said.

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