Kids, teens seek help to log off

Spurt in cases of internet addiction among the young, say doctors

The next time you see your child spending hours on WhatsApp, be careful.

 Psychologists in the city say an increasing number of teenagers are getting addicted to the internet on their smartphones and are seeking counselling.

The common complaints of parents include children showing behaviourial changes like sudden aggression, defiance and mild depression.

“There has been a spurt in cases of internet addiction among children in the past few months. While a significant number of these children are hooked on to WhatsApp and Facebook, for the others gaming is the biggest stressbuster,” said Dr Arti Anand, clinical psychologist at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.

These children addicted to the internet belong to the age group of 10-18 years. “The symptoms are easy to spot. With no physical activity and little sleep, these children are not able to concentrate in studies and are easily irritable. When parents seize their smartphones, it looks like the biggest loss to them and they act defiantly,” said Dr Anand.

Peer pressure is the biggest agent in getting children hooked to the virtual medium. Not being on WhatsApp is “uncool” for most such children these days. 

“Why would I part with my phone? I have six groups on WhatsApp, five from schools and tuitions, and one with my cousins. Switching off the internet means I will be the only one left out,” said Ganesh (name changed), 15.

“The problem is children are not realising it is taking their mind away from other activities. They feel better texting friends from smartphones rather than meeting them. They are not taking a break to listen to music or socially interact or pursuing their hobbies, but constantly communicating on WhatsApp,” said Dr Samir Parikh, director, Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis.

Uday Foundation, an NGO, recently set up the Centre for Children in Internet and Technology Distress in south Delhi to help out such teenagers. This is the first of its kind internet de-addiction centre in Delhi. Children are being counselled for free here.

“Currently, we are receiving seven to eight children for counselling. It is mostly schools that are identifying children in distress and sending them to us. Recently, we got a case in which a girl did not attend school for a month and spent all the time on YouTube,” said Rahul Verma, founder of Uday Foundation.

The centre is following a three-pronged strategy to relieve children addicted to technology. Parents are first required to fill a questionnaire, where they are asked questions like how often children look at smartphones or whether they look interested if taken to a favourite restaurant. 

The second step includes counselling children, and the third, engaging them in outdoor activities.           

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