A byte too much

Technology addiction among students is common phenomenon today.

Technology addiction among students is common phenomenon today. Sanchayan Bhattacharjee takes a look at the risks and effects of this addicction in the new generation

A few months ago, 13-year-old Rahul Singh`s behaviour and lifestyle began to worry his mother. He spent his days either texting friends or just aimlessly surfing on Facebook. He even slept with his phone. “When we took his phone away, he tried everything to get it back,” says Singhs mother. The teenager became more aloof and almost stopped interacting with family. “That is when we suspected that something was wrong,” his mother adds.

Amongst many of his generation, Singh is just one case of what we call technology addiction. This weakness for excessive internet usage involves, incessant gaming, social networking etc. Although it is not classified as a mental disorder, experts agree that it poses a real big problem. Internet addiction is a major subset of this addiction and finds mention in the 2013 edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders authored by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) as something that needs to be researched further.

Jerald J Block published a paper in the APA journal which states four components that characterises this kind of addiction namely

  • Excessive use of the internet leading to a loss of sense of time
  • Problems like anger, tension and depression on withdrawal from technology
  • An uncontrollable urge to buy better equipment or increase the hours of usage
  • Negative side effects like getting into arguments, social isolation and fatigue

    Another case to consider is, Ajay Shetty who scored 93 per cent in the SSC exams a few years back. Today he is struggling to clear his second year engineering exams. The fall in his performance began in the first year of junior college itself and continued with his HSC exams as he spent more time chatting on his mobile phone or on social networking websites. His parents did not worry much initially as they assumed it was just a phase. After securing a paid seat at an engineering college, Shetty failed in three subjects in his first year as he became more and more occupied with the internet. The addiction escalated to a point where he broke a television set and his father’s laptop on different occasions because he was denied access to the internet. He increasingly found it difficult to stick to his routine like attending college etc. “He knew he was making a mistake, but he just could not stay away from his phone or the computer,” says Shubha Thatte, a clinical psychologist who treated Shetty.

    To combat this increasingly frequent problem among students, the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) has set up a first of its kind technology de-addiction clinic at Bangalore. Here, one is able to determine tangible effects of addiction among students like deteriorating academic grades, decrease in other leisure activities and spending less time with family.According to Manoj Sharma, associate professor, psychology, NIMHANS, “The institute was set-up to treat patients who suffered from technology addiction as, even today people are wary of visiting pyschiatrists.” Sharma adds that heavy usage of technology, which is now-a-days a job requirement for some people, is not harmful at all. The problem stems when this usage begins to affect and gradually replace other daily activities or social interactions.

    Shubhangi Parker, dean, psychiatry department, King Edward Memorial (KEM) hospital, Mumbai has come across teenagers who used to enter the cyber café when it opened and stayed there for the entire day. “As these students have some way to generate money, it was never an issue. They almost completely stopped interacting with family members to the extent that one of them did not even attend his mother’s serious operation,” she informs.

    While behavioural and impulse control addictions related to eating, gambling etc. are not unheard of, technology addiction is a fairly recent phenomenon. As the proliferation of mobile phones and expansion of social media continues, students come in contact with technology a lot sooner than their previous generations. What begins as a novelty seeking experience, gradually becomes an addiction. “As use gradually turns into overuse, addiction creeps in,” informs K.Thennarasu, a biostatistician, NIMHANS. Parker concurs with this view and adds, “Their young age makes them more vulnerable than adults as their decision making abilities are not as developed.”

    Despite the warning signs, India remains relatively unscathed from this slow menace. After a number of cardiopulmonary related deaths and murders which happened because of internet and computer games, South Korea considers internet addiction as a serious public health issue. In 2006, the South Korean government estimates that around 210,000 students were afflicted with addiction problems and more than 20 per cent of these needed hospitalization for treatment. Today, it has begun dealing with the problem through education, research, and intelligent public policy. The cultural and technological differences notwithstanding, initial signs indicate that India is dealing with the same problem.

    According to a research published in the Asian Journal of Psychiatry, five per cent of the 18-25-year-olds in India are addicted to social networking sites while 24 per cent use the internet more than required. Similarly a research conducted by Thatte in Thane and Mulund showed that 60 per cent of the students in the area from class IX – class XII spent more than three hours on their mobile, computer or television. “These mediums always appear more attractive to students who are already overburdened with academic work from school,” she informs.

    Apart from the impact on social and academic life, technology addiction has adverse psychological implications too. There is a documented impact on the self-image of a person based on how they perceive themselves online with regards to friendships, dating and other cyber-relationships. “All such aspects if not managed on time can have significant short term and long term impact,” says Pallavi Tomar, a clinical psychologist, Mumbai.

    Lata Shenava, an emotional intelligence certified therapist, trainer and life-coach mentions a case of a boy who slit his wrist after his grandmother caught him watching porn. Luckily, the cut was made hastily and the boy survived. Shenava holds parents responsbile for such problems. “Parents are seeking compensation culture as they cannot spend enough time with their children.” She advises that before giving compelte freedom, parents must ascertain whether their children can handle it appropriately. She puts the onus of tackling technology addiction on parents and teachers rather than on clinics and workshops.

    Preoccupation with technology, reduced amounts of sleep, irritability on not being able to use the internet, ignoring other activities, interpersonal conflicts, concealing the actual time spent online from family members, worsening grades, falling behind in assignments, poor nutrition, poor personal hygiene are some of the symptoms of technology addiction. “People can develop this problem irrespective of age. While this problem in isolation will not have major physical consequences, it is often the cause of more serious disorders like obesity, hypertension, insomnia etc,” informs Thatte.
    As with other kinds of addictions, therapy is used to control technology addiction too. It provides step-by-step ways to manage compulsive internet behaviour and change perceptions regarding internet, mobile phones and computer use. “There is also an attempt made to understand if excessive use of technology is related to some other underlying psychological disorder,” says Tomar.

    While therapy is a curative measure, parents must play a crucial role to prevent such a problem from arising in the first place. Parents need make children realise that they cannot get everything they want. “The whole concept of being afraid of your parents has many advantages and must be followed,” says Shenava. According to Thatte, parenting must become smarter in this digital age. “It is ridiculous to keep children away from mobiles or computers completely.” Parents must devise ways to be a part of their child’s interaction with technology. “It will not only help them supervise their usage, but also enable them to introduce to children the innumerable advantages that technology offers,” Shenava adds.

    After just a few counselling sessions, Rahul is now comparatively less anxious without his mobile phone and has resumed other activities. His truncated communication with his family members is also gradually increasing. His mother strongly emphasises the need for evolved parenting to cure and prevent such disorders. “This generation cannot be expected to spend as much time with their parents as we used to. Thus we must take greater initiative from our end and try to spend as much time with them as possible,” she says.
    (Names of the students have been changed in order to maintain confidentiality)