It all started in his childhood. His parents would give him a mobile phone every time he insisted on playing a game. Gradually, he got so engrossed in his virtual world of gaming that he lost interest in the real world. Now, the 15-year-old is being treated for “gadget addiction” at the psychiatry department of the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER).
The youngster used to spend 8-10 hours a day playing video games. He would run away from home, miss classes and even steal things from his home to arrange money to buy games. Lying became a regular affair.
When he was forbidden from stepping out, he took to mobile gaming at home. When that too was stopped, he turned into a violent, aggressive and frustrated teenager.
Today the family does not have a single gadget—no smart phone, no television, no computer. They own only a basic mobile handset.
“This is a unique case, which shows how addictive these gadgets can be,” says Dr Sandeep Grover, psychiatry department, PGIMER.
AT 18, THIS ‘ADDICT’ EARNS LAKHS
This case may be unique, but there are others as well. The department is also treating an 18-year-old from Chandigarh for gadget addiction.
He was 6 when his parents bought him a laptop and smart phone; at the age of 16 he gifted himself a car. The money came from “legal and illegal” means of using internet.
“At 16, he bought a car worth Rs 5 lakh and now he plans to buy a BMW by 2019,” says his father.
The parents got worried when they noticed drastic changes in his behavior. He began spending 10-12 hours on the internet; became self-centered, emotionally detached, anti-social, and stopped interacting with the family.
“After 10th, he decided not to go to school. He feels if he can earn lakhs without a degree, why go to school. He gives me examples of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, whenever I ask him to attend classes,” says the father, who finally got him admitted to a dummy school.
“He has joined some digital forum for digital marketing. He does server hosting in Singapore besides working for DTOS (a management company) and building websites. This is what he tells me whenever I ask him how he earns money online. Rest I do not know,” says his father.
He laments that lost his son to gadgets by making the mistake of pandering to his whims. “I committed this mistake several years ago and lost my child to gadgets. By the time I realised my mistake, it was too late,” said the father.
Three years ago, the parents approached city based psychologists but got no help. “Even doctors do not know how to deal with the addiction. They ask me to take away all the gadgets from him, but when I do that, he becomes aggressive. Besides, he is independent now,” says the father.
Things changed last year, when the youngster lost his mother. “We have started interacting more now,” says the father.
WHAT IS A GADGET ADDICTION?
“We consider a person to be a gadget addict when he/she spends much more than the required time on a gadget. Furthermore, its usage compromises other aspects of life, and one cannot tolerate its removal,” explains Dr Grover.
Gadget addiction is a relatively new concept for psychiatrists as well, who are conducting several studies to understand the disorder better.
“We have just started to recognise it as a problem and we need to learn how to handle it. At PGIMER, we are conducting some studies on screen exposure and gadget addiction,” says Dr Grover.
“But if I have to advise someone, I would say that they should control gadget use and learn how to interact with others in person,” he adds.
When asked if children should be given gadgets, the doctor said, “It should be supervised and there must be a time-frame.”
Dr BS Chavan, Head, Psychiatry department, PGIMER, says, “I have seen three cases in the recent past, where children almost stopped going to school because of their addiction to internet. They do not listen to parents and become violent when they are stopped by parents. Parents should be careful from the very beginning.”
ROLE OF PARENTS
What is bothering doctors is the fact that parents themselves are giving gadgets to their children to keep them distracted. “When you play with friends, you encounter new situations every day. This is how a child learns to deal with defeat. But now, what is happening is that children are not learning to lose, and when they lose, they are completely shattered,” says Dr Grover.
He adds, “Children who remain glued to gadgets are more likely to become aggressive, irritable, emotionally detached and less sensitive.”