In Taiwan, pediatricians and psychiatrists have categorized Internet and electronic device addiction as an “emerging pediatric disease,” citing a four-year-old boy who is a heavy user of tablets and experiences withdrawal symptoms when not able to use the devices.
According to the Taiwan Internet Addiction Prevention Association, children exposed to electronic devices at an early age are more prone to anxiety and depression, as the strong audio and video stimulation provided by the devices could affect their developing neural circuitry.
In my own practice, I have seen children who appear addicted to the Internet or digital gadgets, who experienced headaches, insomnia, or became angry if anyone took away the device or limited their online access. These are children brought in for therapy by parents who are complaining that there children are addicted to smartphones and tablets. The children seem to throw violent tamtrums at any attempt of the parents to divert their attention away from their devices. The issue is something similar to withdrawal symptoms common in any addiction.
Smartphone addiction in children is becoming more common in the US too. While the focus seems to be on other countries such as Taiwan, the US has started to acknowledge that children at young ages should be kept away from technology and digital devices.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends for parents and pediatricians that they limit the amount of total entertainment screen time to 2 hours per day and they discourage screen media exposure for children under 2 years of age. While these are good guidelines, they are not enough.
Today’s children are spending an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media, including televisions, computers, phones and other electronic devices. To help kids make wise media choices, parents should monitor their media diet. Parents can make use of established ratings systems for shows, movies and games to avoid inappropriate content, such as violence, explicit sexual content or glorified tobacco and alcohol use. They should also wait until children are three to engage them in any electronic device. Not doing so can lead to greater risk for dependency on devices in the future.