Belfast Telegraph

Is internet addiction everybody's problem?

As yet another survey throws up worrisome proof of our smartphone addiction, Abi Jackson ponders whether it's time we all bucked the trend

By Abi Jackson

We've probably all grumbled or joked - or let out one of those exaggerated Holier-than-thou sighs - about people being glued to their smartphones, or constantly on social media. (It's the ones that keep checking phones at the dinner table, right?! No actually, those constant cryptic 'somebody's wronged me but I can't possibly say who' status update-posters, jeez!)

But, evidence is increasingly mounting that this is far more than just a case of poor table manners, or the modern-world tech-enhanced version of verbal diarrhoea and over-sharing.

Internet addiction is real - which means it needs to be treated as such.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently published findings from its survey of 540,000 15-year-old school children from around the world. It turns out, British youngsters spend more time online than most of the other countries included in the research (even more than their Chinese and American peers), averaging 188 minutes per day, outside of school time, on the web.

That's more than three hours of their time, before and after school, that they're hooked up on their smartphones and laptops, etc.

Of course, the internet is not an inherently 'bad' thing, and some of this time online might be for entirely positive, productive or useful ends.

This major global study, however, also found that youngsters who spend most time online, tended to be the least happy. Correlations also cropped up between things like girls skipping meals and increased pressures from social media, as well as cyber bullying.

Dr Richard Graham, who opened the UK's first technology addiction clinic at Nightingale Hospital, says in response: "Looking at these findings, it's clear that it's more important than ever for parents and carers to understand technology addiction within children and teenagers. If a child is displaying signs of severe distress and agitation when separated from technology, then we know that there's an unhealthy dependence."

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Tackling web addiction isn't black and white, of course. Just like you can't tell somebody battling bulimia to simply stop eating, just going cold turkey forever more with technology isn't often a viable option. Boundaries and habit-changing techniques can help though.

"It's important to restrict the time children spend using technology, to help prevent them from forming an unhealthy dependence," says Graham. "Techniques can include facilitating prolonged periods where children are focused on the 'real world', or establishing a maximum daily allowance.

"It's also about making sure adults leave their phones off or on silent during meal times and when with friends and family, as children learn behaviour from their parents."

And that's the crux. Because, if we're honest, this isn't just a problem for youngsters, is it?

Familiar with the term 'phantom vibrations'? It's one of the physiological symptoms of 'psychological dependency' on mobile phones, according to researchers at University of Michigan. Their findings, published earlier this year, basically indicated that the more hooked somebody is on their smartphone, and the less emotionally stable, the more likely they are to experience 'phantom' phone buzzing and message alerts.

Late last year, Deloitte's Mobile Consumer Survey, which quizzed 4,000 UK mobile users, found one-in-three UK adults have argued over using their phone too much, with the same amount of people also admitting they check their messages at night.

The stats just keep on coming - and it's probably nothing we don't already know, from our own behaviour and that of our friends, family, colleagues - and yes, our children.

Maybe we all need to take Dr Graham's advice, and learn to log off.

WILL SOCIAL MEDIA INFLUENCE THE ELECTION OUTCOME?

Theresa May's announcement to hold a general election in June might have seemed like a snap decision - but could it be a case of 'Snapchat' decisions when it comes to who gets the votes? According to a poll by Carphone Warehouse, nearly half (48%) of young people aged 18-24 admit social media posts make them more likely to vote.

Furthermore, over a third (36%) said what they read or see on social media is enough to persuade them to pick a party. Is the country in need of a government status update? Perhaps time, and Facebook, will tell...

WOULD YOU SHARE YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA PASSWORDS?

The whole purpose of passwords is that they're private, right? A new survey by UK leading independent tech retailer Ebuyer.com, however, found 89% of Brits let up to four people know their social media passwords, while a further 10% share their passwords with up to 10 people.

Youngsters may be known as the more tech-savvy generation, but when it comes to protecting passwords and being social media safety-minded, people aged 65-plus came out tops, with only 1% of that age group, letting between five and 10 people know their log-in details.

NEW APP TO HELP PARENTS WORRIED ABOUT SEXTING

How to protect children and young teens from internet dangers can be a minefield for parents - especially when it comes to the so-called 'sexting' trend, and the sending and receiving of explicit or nude images.

 A recent poll found these are now greater concerns for parents than smoking and alcohol abuse.

New app, Gallery Guardian, aims to help parents tackle the issue, by automatically spotting suspect images and alerting parents to them. Visit galleryguardian.co.uk to find out more.

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