Expert warns of drug abuse-like symptoms in kids hooked on devices

Research shows that excessive use of electronic devices targets the same brain pathways as illicit drugs.

PETALING JAYA: Child experts agree that technological advancements have brought a new problem in children’s growth, after an activist cautioned parents against using electronic devices, including mobile phones, as babysitters.

Clinical psychologist Evelyn Soong said excessive use of electronic devices causes symptoms similar to those suffered by drug addicts.

According to Evelyn, there has been an increase in research in this area although there is no official diagnosis on addiction to electronic devices.

She said long-term abuse of drugs has been known to eventually alter the user’s brain, requiring more substance to produce the same amount of pleasure or high.

“Excessive use of electronic devices was found to target the same pathways as illicit drugs,” she said.

She said prolonged use of electronic devices by children could alter their brain, forcing them to spend more time on the devices to achieve the same level of pleasure.

“If the level of pleasure is not met, it creates problems with the user’s focus, behaviour and mood.”

Evelyn said negative effects of overuse of electronic devices included sleep deprivation, poor academic performance, social isolation, and difficulties in interpersonal relationships with family and friends.

“It could also lead to other forms of mental disorders such as depression and anxiety,” she added.

Evelyn was commenting on remarks by Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) chairman Noor Azimah Rahim, who said a majority of parents seemed content to allow electronic devices to act as modern-day child minders.

Azimah said apart from creating a rift between parent and child, the consequences would include a lack of soft skills and an addiction to electronic devices.

Agreeing with her, Evelyn said parents must ensure that children do not spend too much time on electronic devices, adding that this must begin with them.

“Parents need to control the use of technology themselves,” she said. “Specifying time spent on gadgets for children and parents helps. So does implementing ‘tech-free’ time during meals, homework, and bedtime.”

For United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) representative in Malaysia, Marianne Clark-Hattingh, technological advancements have brought along new challenges in keeping children safe.

She said Malaysia is a country where digital devices are widely used, and there are hidden dangers that children and young adults must be aware of.