WAYS TO COMBAT GADGET ADDICTION IN THE AGE OF SCREENS

Published on 6 October 2021

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

— Arthur C. Clarke

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Technology has made life so much easier, convenient and faster.  Participation in modern-day civilization has made the use of digital technology mandatory.  However useful digital technology is, young people should watch their phone habits rather than follow trends blindly.

While there is no clear definition for the growing phenomenon of gadget addiction or the digital pied piper effect (Sivani Saravanamuttu, 2018), it is generally considered to be a condition where the use of a digital gadget like the smartphone stops a person from maintaining a healthy lifestyle. There is a term for compulsive online activity and it is called as Internet addiction disorder (IAD), although it is not officially recognised by the medical fraternity. The other classifications include screen dependency disorder, Internet gaming disorder, problematic and compulsive Internet use, pathological video game use, mobile phone dependence, social network addiction, Facebook addiction and digital dementia. The branch of medicine called Addiction Medicine is yet to recognise all forms of gadget or Internet addictions.

Engineer, cartoonist and inventor, Rube Goldberg was known for his “invention drawings,” where he designed overly complicated machines using pulleys, levers, ropes and rockets, to solve seemingly simple problems like taking a cookie out of a jar, drinking a soup from a bowl or unwrapping a gift.  He was critiquing the havoc wrought by the industrialization and technology of his time.  He put forth the idea that technology is intended to simplify life and not complicate it!  In our eagerness to automate just about everything, we should not complicate life and living.  Digital gadgets should not become the Rube Goldberg machines of our time!  The implication of how we use it is up to us. 

By Rube Goldberg – Originally published in Collier’s,
September 26, 1931, Public Domain

It takes a village to raise a child; it also takes one to protect them from gadget addiction.  Listed below are some recommendations to create awareness, ensure policy changes and promote humane design to combat gadget addiction, in a holistic manner.

Recommendations for Governments, Lawmakers and Industry: 

  • Regulation of digital technology and protection of personal data. 
  • Guidelines for the use of virtual reality, voice-activated digital assistants and Internet-connected toys. 
  • Check harmful content on Internet; fire-wall to filter and prevent violent, life-threatening, morally degrading online games. 
  • Crackdown on cybercriminals. 
  • Address cyberbullying in educational institutions. 
  • Initiate digital literacy and make it accessible to all. 
  • Find ways to include illiterate and semi-literate people in the digital world. 
  • Steps must be taken to educate youth about online facilities. 
  • Overhaul education to meet the needs of the fourth industrial revolution. 
  • Remove the stigma attached to mental health and create awareness. 
  • Provide mental health services from primary school onward and counseling outside educational institutions, as external supplementary support. 
  • Address the lack of qualified, full-time counselors and set up private mental health contractors. 
  • Provide student assistance programs and employee assistance programs for mental health issues and life coaching to businesses and schools across the country. 
  • Doctors and pediatricians should address excessive digital gadget use by children and advise parents and caregivers about family media use plan. 
  • Set up national research centers for the prevention of gadget addiction along with digital detoxification centers. 
  • Increase funding for childhood mental health projects. 
  • Encourage and fund research on wireless radiofrequency (RF) energy exposure, monitoring and impact assessment. 
  • In urban planning, give greater priority to creating wide-open spaces and playgrounds for children to play safely. 
  • Make it mandatory for all schools to have playgrounds and deny recognition to schools without playgrounds. 
  • Make Physical Education (PT) compulsory for all students in schools. 
  • Introduce a National Happiness Index and a Minister for Loneliness; address social isolation with innovative policies. 
  • Address the declining commitment to family and community by the younger generation. 
  • Introduce and enhance public libraries, daycare centers and community spaces. 
  • Crackdown on distracted driving with stringent rules and heavy penalties. 
  • Hold open forums to address mental health issues and gadget dependency. 
  • Design technology ethically to prevent consumers from being exploited, prevent loot boxes in popular games which lure children to spend money to improve their game; develop guidelines to make networked communications productive and not predatory. 
  • Explore innovative research on wireless device charging and improve technology to make it more efficient, for instance, through solar panel-embedded bags instead of clothing, so that the digital devices are not placed in contact with the body. 
  • Incorporate features in digital gadgets to prevent gadget addiction in children, for instance, an automatic shut-off after a particular time of use. 
  • Industry must produce long-term value not just for shareholders alone, but for society at large.

The mantra is REGULATE, PROTECT, INNOVATE

Recommendations for Academia: 

  • Cyber-education and cyberbullying awareness programs should begin from elementary school, preferably third grade. 
  • Penalty for online bullying must be dealt with punitive actions. 
  • Internet safety must be taught mandatorily to all students, starting at age 10.
  • Draft a policy for safe use of electronic devices, implement and follow through. 
  • Ensure children use the Internet in highly visible areas on school premises. 
  • Install effective firewalls, filtering and monitoring software mechanisms in computers; review filtering, blocking policies and procedures. 
  • Give importance to life-oriented education classes and value education with an emphasis on empathy. 
  • Advocate critical thinking instruction as a way to create a better future for the students. 
  • Sexuality education must be taught with an emphasis on safe and unsafe behavior online and how to avoid crude, explicit and disturbing content on the net. 
  • Set up in-house psychological counseling centers; observe closely for any behavioral changes in students. 
  • Create the opportunity for all students to make their contributions according to their talents. 
  • Encourage participation in activities involving selfless service. 
  • The sole focus on academics must change to accommodate physical education as an integral part of education. 
  • A separate report card for sports with an emphasis on health, fitness, values and personality development. 
  • Art, crafts, music, dance and theatre must be given due importance. 
  • Creativity and imagination must be nurtured in every child. 
  • Coding lessons should start at age 12. 
  • Create awareness about the responsible use of mobile phones in public places; avoid distractive use of digital gadgets on the roads. 
  • Shift from only rote-learning to enhancing multidisciplinary skills, so that students learn to apply their skills to solve real-world problems and be evaluated for it; testing standards must be changed to accommodate phenomenon-based learning.
  • Students should be taught to seek out information, critique and produce knowledge of their own. 
  • The future is about being self-driven life-long learners. 

The mantra is LEARN, UNLEARN, RELEARN

Recommendations for General Population: 

  • Use a headset or speakerphone for talking; keep the conversation short. 
  • Carry the phone in a backpack, purse or briefcase, away from the body. 
  • Be strict about sleep hygiene, keep sleeping areas free of digital gadgets; never place a smartphone under a pillow or use it as an alarm clock.
  • Turn off Wi-Fi when not in use at home; the Wi-Fi router should be placed at a minimum distance of 5 meters. 
  • Be aware that digital gadgets emit high RF energy when streaming audio, video, downloading or sending large files. 
  • Be aware of products claiming to reduce RF energy from wireless devices; may, in reality, increase the possible exposure, as they interfere with the phone’s signal and force it to emit more RF energy to stay connected. 
  • Sleep in a room away from the wireless utility meter or smart meter. 
  • Request for stringent regulations and monitoring from governments and lawmakers; better services from technology companies; educate shareholders or be informed as a shareholder about responsible investing. 
  • Be assertive and learn to stay away from mindless online challenges, dares and impulsive decisions; know the dangers and do not confuse the real world with the virtual one.
  • Do not get hooked on social media validation; avoid trolling. 
  • Gadget use during driving or riding is a strict NO-NO; be watchful of gadget use while walking or crossing the road. 
  • Find a balance between online and offline life. 
  • Don’t just be an end-user, do not forfeit creativity, instead nurture it. 
  • Do a digital detox once a week; switch off, shut down and go off-grid. 
  • Don’t be a chronic head-down generation, go for a run without your fitness tracker or phone, no laptop on your lap, cook your meal, read a physical book, catch a documentary on TV, watch a real game, walk on a beach and find your way without a digital map! 
  • Keep your mind, food and house clean.

The mantra is PREPARE, REPAIR, ENHANCE

Recommendations for Parents: 

  • Be computer-savvy and technology-aware. 
  • Be informed about safe online practices.
  • Teach children about cybercriminals, cyberbullying, identifying online dangers and being careful about personal information online. 
  • No smartphones for infants, toddlers and preschoolers. 
  • Have structured access to digital gadgets and use should be tailored to individual situations. 
  • Look out for mood swings in children like frequent outbursts of anger, fragile self-esteem, irritability, difficulty controlling emotions, moody or violent behavior when the digital gadget is taken away, being secretive, difficulty with sleep, marks of self-harm on the body, disinterest in daily life, and poor academic performance.
  • Right from the time they raise questions, parents should help children understand social and personal boundaries, privacy, modesty and sexuality. 
  • Encourage children to spend time outdoors and to draw comfort from the natural environment. 
  • Teach good etiquettes and netiquettes, and the basics of courtesy, conversation, appreciating simple pleasures and respecting elders. 
  • Teach them to avoid procrastination and digital distraction. 
  • Get them to do routine physical exercise outdoors and soak in the morning sunlight; enroll in yoga and meditation to strengthen the body, resolve, focus and memory, master emotions and curb anxiety. 
  • Enlist children in one sports activity of their choice; change the mindset from plain academics to include sports for children, but it must not be forced or stress-inducing; children must be taught about healthy competition and sportsmanship. 
  • Teach children about service to society and being connected to the community; read to them about random acts of kindness and being mindful. 
  • Provide locally cultivated, nutritious, organic and freshly cooked food; the simple rule is to eat the rainbow, which means to eat vegetables and fruits belonging to all colors of the rainbow. 
  • Avoid junk, packaged and processed food, as much as possible. 
  • Understand that the brain is intricately connected to the stomach through the vagus nerve; fermented foods, probiotics help reduce stress hormones, maintain optimal gut flora and are essential for robust mental health. 
  • Children are exposed to nearly 300 man-made chemicals on average, and it is mandatory to take steps to reduce toxins by inculcating healthy habits. 
  • Encourage adequate sleep; without it, eating healthy food and doing exercise will be of no use. 
  • The bedroom should be devoid of any wireless digital devices including cell phones, laptops and tablets. 
  • Follow strict intermittent fasts from wireless digital devices to improve mood, focus, sleep and behavior. 
  • Connect emotionally, spend time with your children, enquire about their day, greet them and play with them. 
  • Teach them to deal with their frustrations and cope with their anger. 
  • Avoid self-limiting beliefs and encourage children to dream right instead of dream big. 
  • Boost your child’s confidence by acknowledging their feelings, identifying and dispelling inaccurate beliefs, avoiding comparisons, building a positive home, offering unconditional love and providing age-appropriate responsibilities; commend them for a job well done and practice what you preach. 
  • Expose children to different hobbies, zero in on the one they love the most and follow it consistently. 
  • Music is mandatory; either listen, sing, play an instrument or dance. 
  • Let children get bored and innovate different ways to get out of boredom. 
  • Nurture creativity in children; allow time for exploratory play, pretend play and free play; when they need guidance, provide it. 
  • Inculcate reading habits; read to your children, if possible before bedtime, right from the time they are infants. 
  • Watching videos, surfing the Internet and downloading apps are best done on a tablet; Wi-Fi-only tablets will keep a check on the bills and some devices enable parents to set limits for surfing, downloading and texting. 
  • Children should not to place their phones in their pockets, inner garments or belt holster.  Put the phone in a bag, away from the body, as much as possible; cell phone antenna always connects to the nearby cell phone tower whenever it is on; it emits RF energy even when it is not being used; in “airplane mode,” RF energy is turned off. 
  • Do not allow children to place the tablets on their stomach when they sit. 
  • Avoid screentime before bedtime. 
  • Teach them to prioritize face-to-face conversation over devices and invest in real-life friends in real-time. 
  • Encourage tech time-out. 
  • Switch off gadgets during mealtime. 
  • Be aware that digital gadgets, connected toys, baby monitors, smartwatches and voice-assisted digital assistants can be used to hack into your home and violate your privacy. 
  • Working parents must entrust the digital supervision of their children to reliable caregivers. 
  • If you wish to introduce wireless gadgets to your 5- or 10-year-old, then better be prepared to “BE PRESENT” in your child’s life, and no, the wireless gadget is not a surrogate parent.

The mantra is MODERATE, MENTOR, MONITOR

The Digital Pied Piper Effect
Source: Google Images

Further Reading

The Digital Pied Piper Effect, Sivani Saravanamuttu (2018)

Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) and Its Implications for Protecting Children Online, UNICEF (April 2020)

Last Updated on 19 December 2021

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