The country celebrated 20 years of the internet last week. It was in 1995 that VSNL brought internet to India and since then we have seen how it has managed to revolutionise almost every area of our functioning. No doubt, it is a boon to our society but one must not ignore the trail of negative effects that it's leaving behind. It is becoming an increasing concern for the young and adolescents as a recent survey revealed that out of all the internet users around the globe, 80% is constituted by the youth. These numbers will only increase by next year.
The Internet Use Disorder (IUD) will soon be included in the new edition of DSM as an actual mental health disorder. The symptoms of IUD are:
-Being preoccupied with the internet. Even when not online, one will constantly find themselves anticipating their next online session.
-Being online for more than originally intended.
-Withdrawal symptoms when the substance (internet) is not available
-Unsuccessful attempts to quit, and use the internet to improve or escape dysphoric mood.
Physiological effects of excessive internet use include headaches, backaches, blurred or strained vision, sleep disturbances, weight or weight loss and in severe cases carpel tunnel syndrome. Psychological symptoms include a wide range of emotional problems such as feelings of anxiety, depression, isolation and agitation. Children may become dishonest and defensive about their behaviour.
Empirical research indicates that adolescents who spend excessive time on the internet experience greater decline in their mental and social well-being and become depressive. Similarly studies have shown that children spending countless hours on the social networking websites have lower levels of self-esteem and psychological symptoms of maladjustment, thereby promoting social isolation, disruption in making genuine, meaningful social ties and social disengagement.
According to Dr. Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows - What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, constant distraction from our smartphones is leading to decreased attention and focus which are key in the process of memory consolidation. Children are not able to transfer information from their short-term memory to the long-term memory and this just promotes superficial learning.
What can be done about it? Well first of all we can and should model appropriate internet use. Spread awareness about negative impact of excessive internet use — mental and physical effects, cyber crimes, cyber-bullying, gaming addiction, gambling addition, online shopping addiction etc. As parents and guardians, do not severely limit their internet use — children will only rebel and find other ways.
• Encourage other interests and social activities.
Get your child out from behind the computer screen. Expose kids to other hobbies and activities, such as team sports and after school clubs.
• Monitor computer use and set clear limits.
Restrict the use of computers, to a common area of the house where you can keep an eye on your child's online activity, and limit time online. This will be most effective if you as parents follow it. If you can't stay offline, chances are your children won't either.
• Talk to your child about underlying issues.
Compulsive computer use can be the sign of deeper problems. Is your child having problems fitting in? Has there been a recent major change that is causing stress?
• Don't be afraid to seek professional help.
We are often skeptical about consulting a mental health professional but do take a step towards counselling if you are concerned about your child.
Madhumita Pandey is a Consultant Psychologist and Academic Researcher at the Anglia Ruskin University.