Can’t take your eyes of those colourful Apps? Then probably you are having a relationship with your tech device! This relationship isn’t as healthy as you may think of. Technology has so far become part and parcel of our lives and we simply can’t stay away from these sophisticated devices. This addiction has made headlines more often than we have possibly imagined and researchers are now exploring ways to encourage people to detach themselves from these devices.
The anti-social effect these devices have instilled in us has become quite an unpleasant sight. As much as it is rude to be glued to your devices during a conversation or during class, it also has various social, psychological and physical impacts.
Speaking to Health Capsule, Dr. Ramani Ratnaweera, Consultant Psychiatrist at the Karapitiya Teaching Hospital, elaborated on these risks imposed on youth and the importance of detaching from these devices at an early age.
Cheaper mode of information
The Internet gives enough information to add in, in case you run out of facts. Over the years, the Internet has proved itself to be an easily accessible source of information. But the credibility of its facts and sources has most often been debated. According to Dr. Ratnaweera, the internet is the cheapest mode of acquiring information. “Therefore children rely on the Internet to find information. This is in terms of academics. But in terms of non-academics, children use the internet to access social media and also play games. Social media is a highly addictive factor associated with the Internet. From all groups children get addicted to it quite fast. Therefore even if there’s a major exam, they will find some time to log in to social media and chat with their regular ‘friends’. It is the Internet that makes teens get addicted to their tech devices. If not it would be a game which would allow them to be engaged,” she said.
Stimulation of the prefrontal cortex
Speaking further, Dr. Ratnaweera said that a chemical reaction is triggered in the brain when children or teens use the Internet. “When using the internet their prefrontal cortex gets activated. The prefrontal cortex is of significant importance when top-down processing is needed. Top-down processing by definition is when behaviour is guided by internal states or intentions. When people develop an addiction there’s an increase in the secretion of dopamine. Therefore they use the Internet and are addicted to it like they would be addicted to smoking, alcohol or drugs. Thereafter they can’t process their thinking capacity to manage time or for other complex mental activities,” she explained.
The prefrontal cortex is highly interconnected with much of the brain, including extensive connections with other cortical, subcortical and brain stem sites. It also receives inputs from the brainstem arousal systems, and its function is particularly dependent on its neurochemical environment. According to the Dual Systems Model, the interplay between the prefrontal cortex and socio-emotional system of the brain is relevant for adolescent development.
An anti-social trend
Social media became a social phenomenon altogether. What started off as a platform to get to know new friends became a platform for people to exchange ideas and today it is considered as a ‘new media’. To enable this task, sophisticated devices need to function as expected. Therefore, we now have everything at the click of a button. Dr. Ratnaweera further said that teens eventually end up upgrading their technological devices to compete with their friends. “So they eventually start working on a desktop, but would want a sophisticated smart phone in the end. Around 60% of children use mobile phones in Sri Lanka and they have a Facebook account. Because there’s an App for Facebook it could be easily accessed and children tend to be using it regularly. One of the risks is that they associate with people they don’t know. One could have over 1000 friends on Facebook, but how many of them would they actually know? Parents now don’t have time to talk to their children. They are in their own worlds. Back in the day, the family used to get together at the dining table, but this doesn’t happen anymore,”affirmed
Once they connect with their devices, teens develop anxiety, depression and loneliness. “They expect their virtual friends to solve their problems, but this doesn’t happen. Even with their exams and other work, teens would still want to log in to their accounts and see what’s new. These teens are usually very stubborn and there seems to be many problems among children and parents as well. It is natural to see them glued to their phones even later in the night without sleeping.
Research suggests that students who text longer in the dark also sleep fewer hours and were sleepier during the day than those who stopped messaging when they went to bed. The effects of a blue light emitted from smartphones and other devices are intensified when viewed in a dark room. This short wavelength light can have a strong impact on daytime sleepiness symptoms since it can delay the release of melatonin, making it more difficult to fall asleep even when seen through closed eyelids.
We often see that those staying in one place often become plump over a period of time. Lack of physical activity will eventually develop other conditions such as diabetes and obesity. This could also be observed in children and teens addicted to the Internet. Dr. Ratnaweera further said that those who are addicted to their devices have physical issues as well. “They are usually very fat, don’t eat well and don’t exercise as well. They also develop other conditions such as backaches and weak eyesight. When you go to a party those days, children and teens used to play around. But today we see the opposite because everybody is glued to their devices. They seem to be alone in their own world and it is rude not be socializing with the rest of the crowd. Children spend more than six hours of the week on their phones and they lack sleep as well,”she added.
Internet addiction could also bring about changes in lifestyles and it could have an adverse impact on the growth and development of Internet addicts. It could also affect emotional well-being and would bring about various side effects as a result of this addiction.
It’s important to intervene on behaviours such as Internet and technology addiction at an early age. Once adolescents develop a habit, it would be difficult to get them out of it. Dr. Ratnaweera said that during counselling sessions they often try to take them out of this habit. “We therefore encourage them to read books and engage in other activities. We make parents aware of their children and also convince them how important it is to closely associate with their children. Children can think creatively and these abilities would be suppressed if they develop such addictions. Parents need to supervise and guide children in their developmental stages. We also do Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) where we try to get them back to socialize with people and disconnect them from these devices,”
Warning signs of technology addiction include :
- A sense of euphoria while plugged in
- Neglecting friends and family
- Skimping on sleep
- Being dishonest about usage
- Feeling anxious, ashamed, guilty or depressed as a result of technology use
- Withdrawing from other activities that were once pleasurable
Physical symptoms of technology addiction include :
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Neck or backaches
- Dry, red eyes