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Social media addiction has reached every household and parents are reaching out to mental health professionals for help. It will be good to consider a couple of case studies, followed by tips to regulate a child’s behaviour with respect to social media usage.

By Dr Ambrish Dharmadhikari

Social media has now become an integral part of our lives to the extent that it is considered the fastest medium to communicate in a social group, make friends and know about the whereabouts of one’s peers. Within no time, social media has influenced children, too. In the last five years, use and impact of social media on children’s lives have exploded to the extent that the term ‘social media addiction’ has reached every household and parents are reaching out to mental health professionals for help. Considering its ubiquitous nature, perhaps it will be good to have a look at a couple of case studies, followed by tips to regulate a child’s behaviour with respect to social media usage.

Case 1: Master Z, a 12-year-old boy, and his parents visited a mental health clinic. As a psychiatrist came to the waiting area to receive the boy, accomplia rimonabant he was found busy playing a game on his mother’s mobile. By the time he settled in the consulting room, he had resumed his game, ignoring the therapist and his parents.

The parents reported that he continuously played mobile games to the extent that he neglected his studies. They expressed their helplessness, stating he would get physically aggressive when the mobile was taken away from him. The father, being away for the whole day, the mother would be afraid of him. Living in a densely-populated residential area, the mother would feel awkward to regulate him as he would shout and make a scene. He would neglect food while getting engrossed in mobile games. The mother would encourage him to play with his friends or ask for help but he would refuse. In the event of a complete battery drain, he would become restless and pester his mother to buy a second phone.

This case is an example of gaming addiction in children. A child engaging in mobile games or social media may end being addicted if its control is not regulated.

Case 2: Parents of Miss T, a 14-year-old girl, visited a mental health clinic with a complaint of excess and secretive use of the mobile. Parents were anxious about her phone use. They complained she would confine herself to her room and would constantly use social media. She would refuse to talk about her usage or any activity/interaction on social media. Parents tried to spy on her using proxy accounts. She would outsmart them.

Parents also observed mood swings, anger outbursts and aloofness. On being confronted, she would just throw a temper tantrum. With decreasing academic performance, the parents had had enough; they took her phone away. This resulted in self-harm. At this tipping point, they got her to the mental health clinic.

This case is a prime example of children getting stuck in the virtual world and neglecting interactions in the real world. These behaviours are detrimental to children’s development and lead to various mental health issues among them.

It is clear that social media is indispensable in current times. We interact with our friends and family, share our joy and sorrow on social media. But just how much is enough needs to be decided. As an adult, one expects self-regulation. For children, parents need to focus on balancing acts of usage in terms of quantity as well as quality.

These points should help parents:

1. No screen time till the age of 18 months.
2. Supervised use up to 1 hour/day from 1.5 years to 5 years.
3. Content should be definitely monitored by parents.
4. Parents should discuss allowed duration and allowed content with children. This helps them to understand the reason why some things are not allowed.
5. Parents should restrict their use of social media as much as possible in front of children.
6. Engaging children in physical activity or games create alternative options.
7. Spending family time together discourages social media usage.
8. Children learn making friends by seeing parents interact with their friends and family.
9. Use of software to ban sexually-inappropriate content is recommended in adolescents.
10. Open talk around pornography, cyber-bullying, appropriate vs inappropriate behaviour on social media with teens is highly recommended.

(The article can be overwhelming for some and disturbing for a few. In case of any psychological issue or emergency, please contact Mpower 1on1 24X7 toll-free Mental Health Helpline on 1800120820050.)

(The writer is Head, Mpower The Foundation (psychiatrist) and Co-ordinator The Mpower Hub)

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