Addiction is the condition of being unable to stop using or doing something as a habit, especially something harmful. People can be addicted to substances or activities: there are drug addicts as well as gambling addicts. Some people are even addicted to exercise!
In recent years, smartphone addiction in children has emerged as a serious concern. In India, up to 44% of children in the age group of 11–14 years are addicted to smartphones. They have difficulty concentrating and sleeping, become emotionally stunted and narcissistic, develop anxiety disorders, and don’t bond well with their parents.
No child is born addicted to a smartphone. But once they are exposed to it, their young brain takes an instant liking to it. It is natural: after all, the smartphone is a limitless entertainment toy! The brain reacts to a smartphone as if it were a drug. The notification tone, icons, and vibration can cause the brain to release dopamine. If children or even adults, experience this dopamine shot repeatedly, they become addicted.
Here are the symptoms of smartphone addiction:
There are several potent measures that parents can take to prevent smartphone addiction in their kids.
Be clear that you, the parent, are the adult in the relationship. You are the one who is equipped, authorised, and obligated to make health-related decisions for your children. It is your job to ration their smartphone exposure to ensure their optimal health. In doing this job, if you come across as cruel, so be it. You will not become a good parent by giving in to all your children’s demands.
Try to hold off screen exposure of your children for as long as practically possible. Children below the age of 6 should not be using smartphones at all. Beyond that, if you wish to give your kids a phone to stay in touch with them, give them a feature phone rather than a smartphone. That way, the chances of they becoming addicted to the dopamine-pushing notifications is significantly reduced.
Don’t use the smartphone as a bargaining chip to make your kid listen to you or use it as a distraction to feed your child. Raising children is not easy, but if you use such shortcuts to get through the day, you will harm your child in the long run.
Before you even have a child, have a “child smartphone rulebook”. Lay down principles, rules, and guidelines on when and how your child can use a smartphone. When your child starts talking, discuss these guidelines with her and tell her what is expected of her. Don’t deviate from the rules or make too many exceptions. That would make your guidelines useless.
As a parent, you must know which apps your child uses, for how long, and communicates with whom. Tracking and monitoring are critical to protect your child from getting cyberbullied or cyber-exploited. Install parental controls on the phone so that your child does not use it beyond the agreed hours. There are many apps on Google Play Store or Apple Store, like Moment and OurPact, that help you set limits and permissions.
Your child must be told that you are the owner of the smartphone—you are allowing her to use it as a privilege, not as a right. Children have no smartphone rights; they only have the right to your love and care. Ensuring healthy phone use is nothing but caring.
Make it clear to your children that you will be monitoring their phone activity and communications. You must set their usernames and passwords, and they should not be allowed to change them. Ideally, the phone’s operating system, SIM, and apps should be registered to you. Your email ID and phone number should be the two-factor recovery option until your children become adults.
Smartphone addiction is a serious problem for adults as well. If you are yourself struggling with it, you cannot help your children. They will take your behaviour as a sign that excessive smartphone use is okay. So, before you lay down the rules for your children, make sure you follow them yourself.