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A virtual obsession

Judith Woods (via The Telegraph and SMH) | April 26, 2013
So news that ''iPad addiction'' has been identified among children aged as young as four struck an uncomfortable chord with me. Obviously, some children find themselves more deeply hooked than others, but surely talk of ''addiction'' is just the medicalisation of what is simply a symptom of slack parenting?

''Younger and younger children are more engaged with technology and the internet and we need to be mindful of that and set boundaries from the beginning of life, really,'' says child psychiatrist Dr Richard Graham, who established Britain's first technology addiction program at the Capio Nightingale Clinic in London (and treated the four-year-old girl), three years ago.

In these tranquil, discreet London environs, the young people admitted for a £16,000 ($23,800), 28-day digital detox regime are immensely troubled. They are the extreme cases; teenagers who have dropped out of school, who no longer interact face to face but channel all their energies into the online community.

''There are a couple of cases I have been involved in where parents tried to restrict their teenager's access to devices and were met with such violence that the police had to be called,'' Graham says.

''When a young person perceives that online is the only place they feel good, it's not surprising that they feel upset and aggressive when they are suddenly forced to cut all ties with their digital self, in which they have invested so much.

''Some young people are wedded to their consoles because online they can achieve considerable success in games and gain status, yet they are unable to leave the house to go to the corner shop, so we have to focus on getting them to accomplish very ordinary things.''

There are complex issues to deal with: sustained peer pressure, cyberbullying, competition over who has the most friends on Facebook or who is scoring highest in a game. Moreover, online, social interactions that would previously have taken place privately are instead played out in a very public forum, so those who are excluded are made keenly aware of it.

Our children belong to a generation who might look before they cross, but don't think before they post. Taking stock and analysis of any sort are the very antithesis of the instant messaging culture.

Moreover, the sheer, fast-paced insatiability of social networking sites, which makes them so exciting, also creates a pressure to keep up and contribute, however banal or toe-curling the contribution.

As Paris Brown, Britain's first youth crime commissioner, discovered, those often unedifying messages can come back from the depths of cyberspace to haunt their author. Brown, 17, resigned six days after her appointment, following the discovery of tweets she posted between the ages of 14 and 16 that could be considered racist and anti-gay.

It's a cautionary tale that should be told to every child before they sign up to Facebook - that, and the fact that Facebook Depression is now a recognised condition. But it's not just their future career prospects that could be placed in jeopardy; their health, too, is at risk.


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