It seems like something out of a dystopian novel: a darkened room, a teenager transfixed to the screen for hours at a time, unwilling or even unable to pull himself away for food, water, a bathroom break. Yet in China, this is reality for an alarming number of young people, enough so that the medical community has stepped in with drastic measures.
“Chinese doctors consider [Internet game addiction] a clinical disorder and have established rehabilitation centers where afflicted youngsters are confined for months of sometimes draconian therapy, completely isolated from all media, the effectiveness of which remains to be demonstrated,” writes Jane Brody in The New York Times.
The situation in China may represent worst case scenarios, but there are enough young people out there disengaged from their “real” lives in favor of digital media to raise serious concerns among mental health professionals and pediatricians.
“While Internet addiction is not yet considered a clinical diagnosis here, there’s no question that American youths are plugged in and tuned out of ‘live’ action for many more hours of the day than experts consider healthy for normal development,” Brody continues.
“And it starts early, often with preverbal toddlers handed their parents’ cellphones and tablets to entertain themselves when they should be observing the world around them and interacting with their caregivers.”
A generation ago, it was the television that became the babysitter. Now, it’s a variety of media, often as much as eight to 11 hours a day according to a Kaiser Family foundation Study in 2010. We can only imagine that those numbers have gone up as mobile device growth has skyrocketed in the past five years.
Brody points to other research that shows heavy screen time “can have significant negative effects on children’s behavior, health and school performance” including an immunity to violence, less empathy, more aggression and unhealthy weight and nutrition.
“If kids are allowed to play ‘Candy Crush’ on the way to school, the car ride will be quiet, but that’s not what kids need,” said Catherine Steiner-Adair, a Harvard-affiliated clinical psychologist. “They need time to daydream, deal with anxieties, process their thoughts and share them with parents, who can provide reassurance.”
It starts with awareness. What are you own children’s or grandchildren’s habits? Are they allowed to have their devices on all the time, or do you demand some interaction with the real world? Yes, they’ll complain and they’ll whine…children always do when being told ‘no’…but it’s imperative they learn to connect with humans and the world around them on a non-technical level.