The new childhood addictions Internet, video games and television

Anthony Golden
The new childhood addictions Internet, video games and television

It is not easy to talk about addictions when we talk about children, when we talk about our children. Presumably, most of these children do not yet have this problem, but I think that at least they may have abuse, which is the prelude to addiction..


  • The dangers of addictions in childhood and adolescence
  • Be careful with the TV
    • In younger children
  • Videogames: games or addiction?
    • Positive aspects of video games
    • Dangers of video games
    • What can we parents do?
  • What about internet?
    • Internet benefits
    • Internet dangers
    • How to control the Internet?
  • Criteria for addiction to video games and the Internet
  • Other features

The dangers of addictions in childhood and adolescence

We will begin by defining what the word addiction means that we all identify with prohibited substances, the intake of substances such as alcohol, tobacco, and also with the marginality of those that are prohibited, such as marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy. However, if we stick to the definition of addiction, it would be the habit of those who allow themselves to be dominated by the use of a drug, but we also talk about the fundamental components of addictive disorders, which would be loss of control, dependence and the negative impact of the will of people who allow themselves to be dominated by their impulses, and these criteria are fulfilled by another series of activities that can dangerously "hook" those who begin to abuse them. These are activities that have come with progress, most of them make our lives easier, give us information and training, and are totally safe as long as they know how to use them. They are basic, I would say that they are essential in our lives and also our children have already been born and raised with them..

We talk about progress, technology, and addiction or abuse of television, video games and the Internet, by our children.

This information is not intended to demonize these activities, which are not dangerous in themselves, but to alert parents and, above all, give them guidelines and criteria to change children's behaviors that can lead to real problems.

In Spain we are starting with studies on this topic. The scientific community, psychologists, psychiatrists and sociologists disagree, argue and there are already those who claim that they are the new drugs of the 21st century.

Let's start with an old acquaintance, television: What are its benefits, and what are its dangers?.

Be careful with the TV

In this section, I would like to “alert” about the dangers posed by this new member of the family who is born with our children and will accompany them throughout their lives..

All mothers have succumbed many times to the temptation of letting the children leave us a little quiet, sitting, silent and absorbed in the presence of the best nanny in the world. However, this is not an extenuating factor for our guilt ... we are simply human and sometimes they overwhelm us and we can "turn a blind eye" to certain excesses at very specific times.

With this I want in advance to excuse those "lapses" in which we have all fallen, of leaving them two hours in front of that wonderful nurse who offered them cartoons that miraculously made them be quiet, while the parents were dedicated to other tasks.

If we rely on the wrongly called "children's" series, we find a barrage of heroes who show their guts on the contrary because he has messed with his girl, or the blood (yes in drawings) splashed them in that other series. The identification models were aggressive, arrogant, successful and of course macho.

There are studies that place our children in front of television 80% of their free time, and of course we can also consider it as a new drug. The dependency it creates is obvious. What happens in a house when the television breaks down? Sometimes nothing because there is usually more than one device, but if it is the only device it can cause a whole “monkey” symptomatology that goes through desperation to find a professional to fix it as soon as possible or even to leave us another while it fixes . Let's have a little information about what our children see.

I will list the effects of "excess" understanding that when it exceeds an hour and a half a day on weekdays and many more on weekends, we are already talking about abuse. We start from the basis that this is for children over two years of age, since for children under this age it is essential to avoid being seen due to the damages that it can cause..

These are the effects of excess television on children and adolescents.

In younger children

  • They are more aggressive, they play fighting and kicking because they have grown up with the martial arts of the Japanese. Children of 4 or 5 years old do not have critical capacity. What they see on TV is reality for them. They imitate what they see. A recent study carried out three months ago, says that our children see about two thousand violent acts a year. Movies, series, cartoons, news images, with violent scenes or sexual content and all this in their time slot. Let's not talk about the new reality television spaces that have displaced children's programs that currently only those who have contracted television platforms can afford. That reality television in the evening programs in which people tell very intimate things of explicit sexual content for money, which obviously can become models or examples for children who have not yet developed a critical sense and which is also a form of violence.
  • Night terrors, nightmares, fear of turning off the light may appear, due to the violent images they see when they are not yet ready to assimilate them. We have to bear in mind that they tend to watch television when they still cannot speak.
  • It can delay the appearance of language. The left cerebral hemisphere is, let's say, "in charge" of verbal functions, and before the television it falls asleep, as we see in the child who finally appears calm, with his mouth ajar, his gaze very fixed, and therefore receiving stimuli from non-verbal nature. At two years of age, according to Chomsky (an expert psycholinguist), the child is very sensitive to the stimuli that generate a verbal response in him. When watching television, the child does not perceive that nobody is waiting for his verbal response, that they demand a response and therefore will show a delay in language. It is a unidirectional communication system and it is depriving the child of the wonderful contact that occurs when his mother tells him a story, in which not only the answer to the questioning child intervenes, but imagination, analysis and synthesis from the point of view. from an intellectual point of view, but also deprives him of the maternal affective contact that is irreplaceable and that "mother television" is not capable of giving and that favors, as we know, even intellectual development.
  • It replaces play, which, as we know, involves real work for the child, since through it it develops the imagination, when, for example, the quilt can become a mountain range through which the stroller crosses, it favors interrelation with other children when playing it involves more people, and you are deprived of what you may like best: manipulating, dirtying, experimenting, prying and manipulating and learning from your environment.
  • Abuse of television can cause depression, anxiety and other emotional problems, they can be mistrustful and according to a study recently published in America. We are talking about studies that distinguish children with six hours of television, in relation to the control group who watched adequate television. These children may have social and psychological problems.

In teens, the problem can be even bigger. They have received a very high dose of television and are already practically dependent on it. In this way it favors:

  • School failure, with little attention to detail. Delayed responses, little use of previous knowledge, laziness to think, and of course non-existent study habits, with lack of programming, and hours or time dedicated to study.
  • Stereotyped, limited, and swearing language.
  • Establishment of false values, (money, beauty, power) identification with undesirable situations that are offered almost as normal on the small screen.
  • Inadequate hours, little night's rest, which favors apathy and lack of concentration the next day.
  • Increase in violence: There are long-term longitudinal studies, conducted in the US, which indicate that without any doubt those eight-year-old children who abused violent programs tended to show violent behavior in adulthood. With the amount of gratuitous violence that you see until adolescence, if you do not present significant imbalances, it is very common that you at least tolerate violence in others, you can justify it.
  • It completely destroys communication between the family, since there is always a program, a series or a movie to watch while “zapinea” without rest, which also gives rise to many discussions about the power of the diabolical remote control.

Does this mean that we should deprive ourselves of television? No, it can even be said that it can be beneficial used in an appropriate way.

However, it is important to take into account a series of rules.

  • Remember that more than one hour a day is a lot for children and it should not reach two for adolescents.
  • Television should not be watched in the dark, or in low light. And children should not see it alone.
  • It is essential that parents always know what children see, that they feel with them and ask them about what they understand or assimilate from certain programs.
  • That they try to choose the programs to watch together, paying attention to those that are less harmful (I no longer dare to say good ones) sports, contests, family series, documentaries, etc..
  • Establish with the child, schedules, programs of the night that you want to see if they are over 12 years old, it can be as a reward, or see Fridays for example whenever the program is appropriate, but always respecting the hours of sleep (at least eight for all, desirable)
  •  Even that constructive criticism is made of what they are seeing so that children have a guideline about what happens on the small screen.
  • Prevent the television from being constantly on, make the family enjoy the silence of their environment, in which they can talk, think, listen to music, read and even study! ... But for this we must not forget the first premise of education : Leading by example. That is why it is essential to know a not so complicated reality: Your television set has a button that turns it off!!

Videogames: games or addiction?

Let us now move on to the great nightmare, perhaps because it is newer, of the fathers of this century. Video games, we will analyze their dangers and their consequences for children.

The appearance of consoles (Nintendo, Play-Station, etc.) has made this hobby easier to access, since it was not essential to have a computer at home. This has provided the percentages that have been commented on in the latest study carried out by the Youth Institute, together with the FADE, and which gives us the following data:

  • Almost 6 out of 10 adolescents and young people, between the ages of 14 and 18, play video games regularly. Less than 5% have never done so. Of the players, 42% play at least three days a week or daily and one in four adolescents say they play more than two hours each day of the week, with the hours increasing significantly on weekends.
  • The starting age in the game is before 12 years and a high rate of loyalty is maintained: 50% of the players have been so for more than four years.
  • The group most likely to be hooked is the 8 to 13 year olds since in adolescence, even if they continue to play, if there are no problems and there is adequate socialization and there is no verified abuse, the boy will begin to be interested in other activities.
  • Almost 45% of adolescents admit to having had a problem due to gambling. 21.4% refer to school problems, 20.6% to discussions with parents, 15.3% to less sleep and 14.3% to forgetting commitments.

I think that these figures from the study carried out in June last year are sufficiently explanatory.

Regarding the conclusions of whether there are special pathologies that derive from the abuse of video games, there are contradictory opinions. It is not known whether the child with low self-esteem, socialization and family relationship problems takes refuge and finds a way out in a virtual world in which he is valued and in which he is reaching imaginary dreams, or if the opposite is the case. of spending so much time in an unreal world which makes later that he does not know how to face the reality of life, with its successes and failures. Others think that aggressive children are those who opt for aggressive games, or on the contrary children who become aggressive when they see how violence is used indiscriminately, in a natural way, and in which the hero kills his opponents . In my opinion the danger is in how attentive parents are to this hobby. The time they allow him to play, the games they buy him, etc ...

Before going on to see the criteria by which addiction to games can be defined, let's see their qualities that they also have:

Positive aspects of video games

  • They provide greater psychomotor ability, that is, hand-eye coordination. This is obvious and they have nothing more to do with the speed with which they are able to alternate the buttons on the controls.
  • Reflexes increase, it has to be fast and effective.
  • Logical reasoning and decision-making skills are stimulated, since they must play with many variables at the same time.
  • It can improve auditory and visual retention capacity since they have both types of information. That is, visual and auditory memory.
  • In some games a lot of information is used that can be interesting. There are history games, in which the child can learn while playing ...
  • Sometimes it also favors the interrelation between children when playing between several and in some children who do not feel skilled in other types of games such as soccer, somehow this activity carried out in moderation can compensate the child and make him feel more integrated the group.

But I would say that the honeymoon with video games ends here, because you will rightly tell me that if this is so, because every day there is more school failure, because children have more emotional problems. I regret to tell you that like almost everything that has to do with children, the key is in us, in allowing the abuse that can be committed in addiction.

There are also dangers that I am going to detail, and that we will have to take into account when leaving our children hooked on video consoles.

Dangers of video games

  • Bear in mind that there are games that consist of running over virtual people or killing Germans in the Second World War. One of the greatest dangers of abuse or the use of this type of game is clearly the encouragement of subsequent aggressive behavior.
  • Video games have a marked sexist character, which can influence the formation of children, living in a virtual reality in which women are passive objects and in which the male protagonist is above all strong and powerful.
  • Most provoke high doses of adrenaline, stimulating three of the five senses, in an interchange of auditory and visual speed, which requires a rapid response and a series of nervous and repetitive movements..
  • A boy or girl who is exposed for many hours to video games can have consequences of hypersensitivity at the neurological level and will lead to greater excitability, overstimulation and hyperactivity. Sometimes an increase in the activity of the autonomic nervous system can be perfectly seen, with sweating of the hands, tachycardia, increased respiratory rate.
  • Contrary to what can happen in children who play in a group and in a controlled way, there is a danger that the child may isolate himself in solitary games and hinder the social skills he needs for his evolution. In this case, it would promote the child's shyness in front of the real world.
  • It can divert concentration from other tasks and other ways of working, if the child is always used to working with such strong stimuli, school work will be boring, for example. In this way, you can lose motivation for activities other than video games..
  • If the child plays until very late, and before going to bed, the normal rhythm of sleep may be impaired. We will not tire of saying how fundamental sleep is, both in quantity and quality in the child. During the night the human body secretes a hormone called melatonin that contributes, among many other things, to maintaining the quality of restful sleep that is necessary to perform the next day. It is also basic for the child's defensive system, for its growth, it prevents physical and mental problems, and this makes the child's cognitive process continue its normal development. The information we need to know as parents is that this hormone is only produced at night, and if we disturb or reduce sleep we are disrupting its production.
  • Isolation of family communication. The child is watching television, or with his console, and may be irritable and tired with what possibly our attempt to speak, ends in a conflict.

What can we parents do?

  • The maximum play time for a child should be one hour and better in separate 30-minute periods. Denied it with it. If you do your homework properly, giving you an extra ten minutes can be a reward..
  • Preferable to buy multiplayer video games to foster relationships with other children. Also vary the theme, platforms, sports, strategy, etc..
  • Always know what video game they use, avoiding those with aggressive, racist, or pornographic content.
  • Do not adopt a totally restrictive measure. Video games are part of his life. We can be interested in them, talk and play with them. But we must also talk about the negative aspects of certain games and deny that they have them.
  • If your child has epilepsy, you need to be very careful. At least two meters from the screen.
  • Room light on.
  • Do not let him play if he is tired or sick.
  • Offer leisure alternatives in which we participate. At first they may be resistant, but for children of today as for those of always, there is no game that can replace the affective relationship of their parents, their attention, their disposition towards them. Make them see that life can also be watching a game together, skating, cycling, going swimming, going on a hike, etc, etc..

What about internet?

We are now talking about older children who have switched to the "network", which is also a danger as usual ... to know where, as parents we put the limit. It is not only about the time in which the adolescent is in front of the computer, it is about whether this interferes in their daily life, in their studies or in social and family relationships. After all, it is a means of communication and as such could be positive, as can be the chat, if they establish new relationships and positive feedback. But obviously this also has its negative side.

The profile most susceptible to having abuse or addiction problems are especially those introverted children or young people, with low self-esteem, with little family communication, or family problems, these people thus escape from loneliness or their real problems to take refuge in a virtual world in which he must not prove anything to anyone, because among other things he is protected by anonymity, as in the case of chat, in which the most reserved teenager can become the virtual boyfriend of hundreds of girls. For them, these friendships are real, but they can become the only place where the boy feels good, and that is the dangerous thing. Let's say that there is much more addiction problem in boys who have the following characteristics.

  • Low self-esteem
  • Little emotional control
  • Indecision and insecurity
  • Few social relationships
  • Little resistance to frustration
  • Boys with family problems. (crisis, violence, psychological abandonment)

Internet benefits

  • It is simply the future, and we must not out of fear resist progress.
  • It is a wonderful source of information, which can help in children's studies in a fantastic way.
  • It can help them establish better friendships, since sometimes they say to each other in writing what some of them do not dare to say face to face.
  • The use of emails that facilitate all types of exchange.
  • Benefit from games and pages specially made for them, educational, entertaining and formative.
  • Hobbies can be started, such as knowing about movies, about characters that interest them, etc ...

But obviously, regardless of how extraordinary the Internet is in a positive way, it can also have dangers for children.

Internet dangers

The main danger is addiction, the symptoms of which I will describe later..

  • Children can have access to degrading, racist, violent pornographic images or come into contact with unbalanced adults and maintain a relationship, even if it is virtual, that harms them.
  • Children can create false expectations about the friendships they make online, even in adolescents who are already starting with the famous virtual loves, which will never replace the personal relationship, without computers through.
  • Although it does not become an addiction since it does not have the requirements to meet the criteria, the young person may isolate himself too much in front of his computer screen, lose hours of sleep with the chat, or playing, which will obviously affect his studies and his social relationships that are necessary for their formation.

How to control the Internet?

  • Explain clearly that anyone on the Internet can lie about themselves, and that they may be talking to an unbalanced adult. So, just like we do in real life, we will tell you that you should never talk to someone you don't know..
  • They should never give their full name, address, telephone number and other personal information.
  • Never date someone they have met online, unless you approve or are present.
  • Having programs that block xenophobic or violent or pornographic content that, as we know, roam the Internet, without any type of restriction.
  • The computer must be able to be controlled by you. Apart from the privacy to which he also has the right, yours as a parent is to control from time to time what your child visits, who he talks to, what topics interest him..
  • It is interesting to try to understand and use the Internet with him, so that he sees that you are also interested in his things.
  • Internet never more than two hours, between games, information, chat, etc..

I will now go on to comment on the criteria that are being studied to classify new addictions, which in this information refer to child and adolescent age, but do not forget that this new addiction also fills the consultations of psychiatrists attending to parents of children. family…

Criteria for addiction to video games and the Internet

Although the DSM V, which is the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders of the American Psychiatric Association, does not yet include the concept of addiction to video games or the Internet, it defines dependence as a “group of cognitive or behavioral symptoms that indicate that the patient continues to consume despite its undesirable effects, due to tolerance and withdrawal phenomena.

Tolerance is defined when the addict needs more and more time on the network (more and more hours) to experience the same degree of satisfaction and withdrawal syndrome, (discomfort and restlessness when one cannot be in any of the activities) that manifests itself in a loss of control that causes psychomotor agitation and anxiety and obsessive thoughts about the game or the network.

It can be considered addiction when three or more of these symptoms occur:

  1. Feel great satisfaction and euphoria when you are in front of the computer or console.
  2. Thinking about the Internet or video games, when other things are being done.
  3. Lying about the real time that one poses connected to the network or to a video game (between 20 and 40 hours per week).
  4. Neglecting relationship life, especially with family, study, etc..
  5. Being restless or distressed when not connected to a chat.
  6. Trying to hack with the computer and not succeeding.

3 or more of these symptoms (especially 6) are considered to indicate a high risk of addiction.

Other features

  • Sleep deprivation More is sailed at night. You chat especially at night.
  • Extreme irritability when interrupted or denied access.
  • Abandonment of obligations and hobbies. They go out less on weekends, they stay on the computer.
  • Reproaches due to the use of the network, especially by family and friends.
  • Inability to control oneself. It is planned to sail for an hour and there are five.
  • Neglecting their own health as a result of the use of the network, they do not go to eat or do not have dinner, or they go to bed late.

There are also physical alterations for those who really suffer from this addiction that obviously has to do with the hours they spend in front of a screen, such as: Dry eyes or tearing, headaches, back pain, wrist pain, etc ...

Well I think we have done a quick review on the dangers of new technologies for the mental health of our children. However, I do not want to end this reflection without commenting on something that surely you already know. Nothing and no one can substitute for a child the unconditional love and affection of their parents, the advice, the support of these even in bad times, in adolescence. Some parents who are there, with all the mistakes and failures that you want, but who do not give up that continue to fight for their children, I honestly believe that it is very, very difficult for them to fall into some kind of addiction, and yes do, we will find out in time to help you overcome it.

Isabel Menendez Benavente

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