Mental health experts have urged Nigerians to start taking steps to avoid getting addicted to the internet, warning that such an addiction may cause mental, psychological, social, and physical health challenges.
The experts noted that unknown to many people, internet addiction can cause anxiety disorders and sleep disruption with many people staying glued to their gadgets at night instead of sleeping.
Internet addiction, according to the experts, may also lead to depression as well as low self-esteem, adding that it may even make those affected become suicidal
The experts explained that the use of the internet, especially addiction to social media platforms on the internet has greatly eroded the quality of time being spent among families, adding that many people’s heads seem to be buried inside their gadgets thus weakening the family bond that hitherto was very sturdy before the advent of the internet.
Speaking with our correspondent, the experts, Psychiatrist, Royal College of Psychiatrists, United Kingdom, Dr. Tosin Adekunle, and Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Garnetmind Services, Chisom Grace, said it has become necessary to address factors fueling internet addiction to help curb its growing socio-psychological and health impacts.
Speaking with Reportr Door HealthWise, Dr. Adekunle said that internet addiction can cause nerve challenges, mental disturbances, and social problems.
He said: “When the internet is utilised as a means to enhancing existing relationships and forging new social connections it is a useful tool for reducing loneliness. But when social technologies are used to escape the social world and withdraw from the ‘social pain’ of interaction, feelings of loneliness are increased”. He stated further that excessive internet use is associated with sleep disturbance, adding that sleep deprivation can lead to negative consequences such as exhaustion and even a compromised immune system.
“The sedentary nature of being online for excessive periods can also lead to a lack of exercise and a higher risk for carpal tunnel syndrome, back strain, and eye strain.
“This can be addressed and prevented by disrupting internet use patterns by replacing the routine with something else, using external stoppers by setting alarms to limit online sessions, setting goals, writing reminder cards, and finding alternative activities”.
He also urged parents to be proactive in curbing internet addiction in children, noting that while the internet is invaluable to learning, addiction to it by children could be dangerous.
He urged parents to establish ground rules and maintain tech harmony at home, stressing that balance is the key.
“As with most situations, a balanced approach to these new challenges works best. The most significant step is to establish a balanced or sustainable relationship with tech. There is a time for accessing the internet, but not at the expense of time for physical activity and connecting with real people in real time. One helpful means is setting screen time limits to balance online and offline activities.
“Be a role model as a parent by setting boundaries for work time and family time and learn to use media the way you want your children to. Make tech a family affair. When one sets limits with children, they can start learning how to self-regulate and know when screen time is interfering too much with the rest of their lives. Children are also less likely to shy away from limits if they have a role in creating and establishing them.
“Also, playing or watching alongside your children offers several benefits. Parents would be able to vet the content they are accessing, and the child will learn more from the activity through parental interaction, and both parents and children will bond through the shared experience,” he said.
He stated further that “Due to the various risks and impact of social media, parents must limit their children from using social media until at least 13 years old. At that age, they may introduce those apps to their children, so the process becomes more gradual and easier to monitor”.
Speaking further on measures that could help forestall internet addiction in children, he said: “There is a general consensus that total abstinence from the internet should not be the goal of the interventions and that instead, an abstinence from problematic applications and a controlled and balanced internet usage should be achieved”.
Also speaking with our correspondent, Chisom Grace lamented that many people have become so addicted to some social media platforms on the internet, adding that this makes them spend most of their time on the phone or their gadgets.
“When they eventually need someone to talk to or share their concerns with, they realise that they are all by themselves.
Also, insomnia which is a sleep disorder can develop as a result of unhealthy sleep patterns. When an individual spends time especially at night with their phones or gadgets on the internet, it affects their sleeping pattern and disrupts good sleep.
“Any gadget given to a child should be enabled to have parental control. Google accounts can be opened for minors and it would be linked to that of an adult. So that way you can monitor what the teen is doing and also certain pages will not be enabled because it is censored.
“A lot of kids do their assignments online and most parents are busy with work and all, so they do not have time to check what the child is up to. But I think if an underaged account is opened, it will control a lot of things even when no adult is watching”.
According to a study published online by BMC Psychology (2021), internet addiction is a common problem among university students in Ethiopia and negatively affects cognitive functioning, leads to poor academic performance and engagement in hazardous activities, and may lead to anxiety and stress.
Another study published online by the Journal of Education and Health Promotion (2020), revealed that the internet has drastically affected human behaviour, adding that it has positive and negative effects.
The excessive usage of the internet, the study noted, however, exposes users to internet addiction.
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