NEW DELHI: Has the Covid-19 pandemic worsened addiction to the internet among children? The footfall at psychiatric out-patient departments in hospitals, especially those offering help to kids hooked to the net, be it for online gaming, chatting with friends or sharing videos, offers a glimpse of the problem. At AIIMS, the number of parents seeking help for their children, among them the most being those addicted to online gaming, has increased significantly after the pandemic. The special clinic was inundated with requests from parents seeking help, nearly 80% of them are related to online gaming, 15% about excessive use of social media and the remaining 5% related to problems like pornography”.
Times of India carries an article about the problem of increased online addiction during the pandemic.
The parents of a Class XI student — name withheld on request — approached AIIMS because their son was gaming online for hours, and wasn’t willing to give up the habit. The son even hit his father when the latter tried to take away the laptop. In another case, a Class IX student hooked to online gambling spent Rs 75,000 in a single week on his parent’s credit card. Children have developed mental and emotional issues due to addiction to online streaming services. The girl would stay awake all night to finish the TV series and sleep during the day. It continued for six to seven months. She developed insomnia and began hallucinating, which is when the parents panicked and brought her to hospital. We had to put her on psychiatric medications and counselling. During the pandemic, however, the problem increased multiple times. The schools were closed and classes were being held online. This increased the children’s access to digital technologies. Secondly, social interactions shifted online due to restricted physical movement forced by Covid. They Spend more time online led to the addiction. As for online gaming, doctors said these activities were designed to attract young people and were addictive in nature. Online gaming causes the same kind of craving and withdrawal that you see with any other addiction such as substance abuse.
What is the solution to this? Internet use is one of the important pillars of learning and growth in today’s time and, therefore, it may not be advisable to prevent school children from using it. It may be prudent to promote safe usage of the internet. Very importantly, parents should be aware of the warning signs in their children, for example behavioural changes, reduced interaction with family members, children spending most of their time in their rooms, irregular sleeping or eating habits and mood changes that may signal troublesome usage of the technologies. If the habit persists and worsens, it may be advisable to seek expert help. The problem of internet addiction isn’t limited to children belonging to particular social strata, the doctors said. “We need to have more cyber addiction clinics in government hospitals so even those who cannot afford private treatment can seek timely help,” said one senior medico. “It can help prevent serious mental health issues in children and even save lives.” The doctor added that most children suffering from internet addiction improved with behavioural therapy and counselling. It was only in rare cases that medical management became necessary, he added.