According to recent statistics 20% of India’s youth is addicted to the internet the word “addicted” is of course not very favorable to Dr. Samir Parikh who’s sitting with me. Addiction to internet, online gaming to pornography maybe even to social media can be addictive and can be an addiction. I just feel we need not use the word addiction in a lose manner where regular usage or is over diagnosed or over used by adults especially when it comes to teenagers ‘oh you know my sons addicted to TV or oh my sons addicted to online streaming’ that may not be the right word because addiction is a more scientific word there is no debate around the fact we all should be concerned about our increasing dependence on digital communication, on gadgets, our increased indoor time spending and increased social media usage.
To me as a mental health person, especially working with children or adolescents, it’s a major concern but then addiction also has a clearer and different context in terms of a mental illness. Let me help you understand how would I see addiction? So addiction would be that you are using something more than what you should. You almost realize that you are doing that, sometimes you also have this understanding that I want to reduce it, you try and reduce it but you aren’t able to because when you are not doing that you feel a withdrawal, craving, which can be both psychological as well as physiological and when you take it back in, you feel better, which makes you use it more and more. On top of that it takes over important aspects of your life, your social relationships, your physical health, maybe your sleep and appetite, your work and studies, where this becomes the fulcrum of your life around which everything is revolving and other consequences of your life which are happening they don’t bother you, that’s addiction.
There is a significant increase of gadgets and social media, the digital world by almost everybody adults themselves are using it a lot more its not merely the availability of a smartphone or an internet that’s happened to the child. What’s also happened is that outdoor activities have got compromised, what’s also happened is that families have got smaller, what’s also happened is that interface and interaction between generations is also reduced, what’s also happened is that the same phone or social media or internet gives access to a lot of things, irrespective whether this childs age and whats the content, is there an appropriateness and correlation happening or not, that also has happened. So what are my options, my options are not taking the phone away, options are not switching it off, because in any case children are more intelligent than us, they will find a way around it. My options are, I need to give skills, empower, media literacy at the same time encourage a good balanced life and give the right stimulation based on the childs interest and aptitude so that children can explore, we need them to explore their creativity, sports, physical activity as well as develop social skills and social skills are not going to come by reading a book on how to make friends. Doc it is said that every generation finds their addiction, so if it is not this it will be something else and its also like you mentioned there are social factors that also encourage these addictions.
We are talking about 8 and a half hours of screen time, binge watching, online gaming, what can a parent do? Again put the context of duration with regularity as well, keeping awake till 4am or 5am, I’m barely able to keep awake, I don’t do my homework, I don’t do my tests, I don’t meet my friends. Every evening when im supposed to play football or badminton or cricket, I would rather sit back and do this, now that’s the difference and I do that regularly, then it starts affecting my health, my appetite, my sleep, my academic performance, my relationship with my friends, my fun, my joy, my happiness – please understand the difference. So everybody who was getting up to see the episodes of the recently concluded series, some of the adults working in my team, were getting up early in the morning because they just had to see the episode as it was released I’m included in that I find the comedy in that because that’s not addiction, you are just being silly, you are waking up to see a fiction show, but would you call that an addiction It’s not an addiction Precisely so that’s what I said don’t look at one episode, don’t look at one duration So tell me in your experience, are there people who are getting in their children for gadget addiction, are they blowing it out of proportion, is my other question? I think adults are surely overreacting to the usage of gadgets by children, no doubt about it. I also simultaneously believe that children are using gadgets a lot more than I’d be comfortable about and yet I am not using the word addiction for most of this because I feel that we as adults have created an environment which is making these gadgets the most attractive, accessible way to pass time and do things and we’ve made it socially acceptable, the fact that we even use the word social media influencers is reflective of our times.
I’ve seen this 17 year old boy who was brought to me and who had a clear cut online gaming addiction. This boy would not even use at home but would go to those small little parlors, internet cafes and would typically spend 8-10 hours almost every day doing online gaming and would get very irritable if he was asked not to do it, would either skip school or dose of at school, sometimes skip meals because wouldn’t leave that game, I’ll leave after 10 minutes, after 20 minutes, I can’t leave now, can’t leave now, would forget about eating for a few hours, drastically lost a couple of kgs of weight, academics performance came down, friends tried to come and take him out, wouldn’t go out, so that’s addiction. So how do you treat that? Like any other medical problem, in this particular case, you look at the behavioral therapy, gradually start shaping his behavior, simultaneously brining in environmental change, look at all utilize all the support systems and in some cases use medication depending upon what are the other core morbid factors, depressive features, anxiety, insomnia so on and so forth. Because it can lead to anxiety, it can lead to It can be associated with it, so you look at that as well.
I’ve seen another young executive, 26-27 who came to me with pornographic usage in a similar manner, had lost two jobs because could not control the urge to see pornographic images at work place. Very similar aspects, would not sleep, at the cost of sleep, cost of going out, would prefer being on the net watching pornography rather than going out with friends, started losing friends but that stopped mattering and once 2-3 jobs were lost and wasn’t getting a job, and then realized is there something and the reason to come to me was that I’m losing jobs and when he came to me he did not realize that there could be a relation. Internet porn, are we underplaying it because the addiction is so rampant, its easily accessible and you are reaching out to a section of society that does not even understand what they are seeing? I don’t think it’s about underplaying or overplaying, I think it’s about acceptance. Are we accepting that there is a problem with internet porn addiction?
I think we are not accepting the fact that our gadget usage need to be give a serious thought. When 4-5 members living in one house talk to each other through a text on a whatsapp group That’s a problem and its happening That’s the concern, is there a concern around gadgets absolutely and without a doubt. Is there a concern around the nature of social media, absolutely, I have an issue with the content, I have a major issue with nature of trolling and cyber bullying that’s happening, I think it’s very unfortunate, I have a problem with fake news and fake information, it hurts the society’s thought process, especially when young people in their informative years are passed on information which is completely incorrect. I come from mental health, we’ve taken the brunt of stigma, faulty information and its been propagated for generations that even today people have faulty information about mental health. How it is also changing the way we look at ourselves, when young people look at how many likes they got, when they start looking at am I a part of this group or not, they need to photo shop, or selfie, click 20 of them and pick one of them and see which one can I put as a display picture, have I changed it often enough, so on and so forth.
So yes there are concerns, similarly pornography is a concern. Pornography is an addiction? Yes exposure to pornography to children in early formative years, how it shapes their thought process around the concept of sexuality, we will still probably realize in years to come, so that’s a concern. I see very regularly, couples who come to me, because one or the other partners’ pornographic usage created a problem. How? From one partner considering it as a form of infidelity and the other not.
These are individual views here, there is no right or wrong here, because when it comes to a relationship its more about matching your views and beliefs, you know. I recently saw this 37-38 year old man who clearly told me that my sexual relationship with my spouse has changed because I’d much rather watch porn. One believes that watching pornography, is okay I just occasionally see it, how does it matter, but I will not tell my spouse and then when the spouse finds out then its ‘are you hiding, is there more’, so its starts a vicious circle, so one needs to look at it at various levels and then people coming and there you have an individual whose lost jobs because he’ not able to control the impulse, at the cost of social outing, outdoor activity, social engagement, sleep, is so much addicted that not seeing gives restless withdrawals, seeing makes you feel better, then it almost becomes the only key thing that you do. We can’t be judgmental about whether its right, wrong, good or bad, that’s not the point here.
The thing is there are concerns around pornography, especially the access of pornography to children, I don’t think most of us have solutions to it, so let’s say you have a team probably, an occasional use of pornography, a lot of times, what you watch also not always real, it’s an enactment, sometimes not even scientifically possible kind of stuff, it may also shape your attitude, belief and views about sexuality by the mere exposure of what you are seeing, and you may feel that that’s a norm which is okay to explore, which may not be the case and my actually end up affecting your future relationships. This is very important porn is not sex and sex is not always porn, it’s never porn But if you are a younger person, exposure or regular exposure to porn may shape your sexual exploration as an adult also. And how does that impact your relationships because that’s not always possible? Precisely my point and that’s the concern, that’s where pornography needs to be looked in the context.
It’s not about the morality, the right, wrong, just forget that, that’s not even important. Children, adolescents, adults based on the nature of their usage, how it affects their relationship, does it affect their relationship or not needs to be also understood. And addiction would be an addiction, where it becomes the core thing that you are doing at the cost of everything else. Most of these aspects that we have discussed, whether it be social media, whether it is cyber bullying, whether it is gadget usage, whether it is pornography, I think it comes down to media literacy.
Powering young people with media literacy, where they learn to ask questions, ‘what I’m seeing is it true or not, is it fake, who is benefitted by this, who is paid to do this’. Second is parents need to be very, very aware about ensuring that communication with their children, gives children the confidence to talk to parents. You use your safety mechanism, especially for younger children because of the nature of access, easy accessibility is there and there are continuous conversations that we can have.
So if parents want to make an impact, they would have to look at their own usage of the gadgets in the digital world, which I think is very important. Dinner time, if you are on your phone or a laptop or television or something like that, then you are telling children that this is an okay thing to do. Monkey see monkey do Absolutely The importance of critical thinking because a parent can’t be there everywhere, so the ability of the child to understand, this is not right for me because its affecting my life that much, because it may impair me as an individual. Its important for kids to understand, communication between parents, communication between parents and children is very important, again we are stressing this over and over again Conversations in schools which are very important.
I think somewhere our education system needs to find a little more space to be able to discuss the more real issues and life skills, beyond trigonometry and differentials and history dates. I think a lot of schools are doing that Yes but it needs to become across the board and we need to value it because a lot of influence that happens on young people, happens through the peer community and through media. When a person realizes that they are addicted either to porn or an online gaming hat can they do? Your life is more important, you have to talk to someone.
If you feel the hesitation to talk to a family member or a relative, walk into an experts’ clinic. Confidentiality in any case is going to be there whenever you walk into any professionals chamber, taking the right intervention, there is no substitute for that. Sitting at home by yourself may not always work. And this is very important the whole confidentiality thing I think one of the safest places are when you are in a therapists or psychiatrists chamber because its one place where you will not be judged and whatever you shared will not be shared with somebody else, that’s just a part of the ethics And parents need to respect that as well Yes Well on that note, thank you very much, we barely touched the tip of the iceberg, we will be having more discussions on all kinds of addictions, specially related to gadgets, but thank you very much for this insight.