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Psychiatrists warn of internet addiction in children

Recognizing symptoms and seeking medical help immediately are of paramount importance, say experts

Recognizing symptoms and seeking medical help immediately are of paramount importance, say experts

The majority of the 67 persons who walked into the Internet Deadaddition Clinic at the Government Omandurar Medical College Hospital were adults. But what was shocking for the psychiatrists on call was that 10 of them were aged five to 10 years and 13 of them were aged 11 to 18 years.

Among them was a 14-year-old boy, who was brought by his mother with complaints of abnormal hand movements, staying awake late at night to play mobile games, academic decline and lack of interest to write the board exams. The boy, according to doctors, stayed awake till 3 am to play mobile games and compete with friends. He had lost weight and his appetite had reduced.

When he was assessed at the center, he appeared thin for his age. I have avoided gaze contact and answered only in monosyllables. Treatment was initiated; he was counseled regularly once every four days and his gadget use was restricted to one hour per day. His progress was monitored. He was also started on medications. Eventually, his abnormal hand movements reduced and his appetite improved, psychiatrists said.

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

“The clinic, which was launched on December 13, 2021, has been catering to clients with overuse of the Internet in various ways. This includes video games, social media, online shopping, online gambling and online pornography. Some are victims of cyberbullying and suffer from sleep disorders, depression, anxiety, strained interpersonal relationships, poor school or work performance,” she said.

She pointed at the practice of giving gadgets to toddlers to watch nursery rhymes while being fed. “We found speech delay occurring in toddlers due to high Internet use. There is a delay in saying even the basic words — mom and appa. We need to reduce all screens, including television for children,” she stressed.

Of the 67 clients seen at the clinic, there were 23 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 culturally suited for our client population. The clients are assessed clinically and, based on the severity of their symptoms, are subdivided into mild, moderate and severe categories. Based on the category, individual treatment plans are formulated,” Dr. Moses said.

The clinic offered psychotherapy and group therapy as part of the management of internet addiction. Relaxation techniques were taught to increase the psychological resilience. Family intervention was provided whenever necessary. In severe conditions, anxiolytics or anti-anxiety drugs were prescribed and regular follow-up was done, she added.

R. Jayanthi, dean, Government Omandurar Medical College Hospital, said recognizing the symptoms early was of paramount importance. “Parents have a huge responsibility to create a conducive environments for children and be watchful of them when they use any device, whether a simple gaming device or computer or mobile phone. If they find any abnormal behavior, they should seek medical help immediately. This is the primary step as identifying symptoms and seeking medical help early is crucial,” she said.

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