New Delhi: Last week, a 16-year-old boy confessed to having killed his mother and sister at their Noida residence with a pizza cutter and scissors. He confessed that he had planned on killing his father as well, but failed since the latter was away on a business trip in Surat.
The alarming aspect of the double murders is, however, the fact that the boy was addicted to an online game, ‘Gangster in High School’, that challenged the players to kill and get away with it.
This revelation, experts say, is something that cannot be ignored and also one that cements the need to talk about internet addiction.
While the phenomenon of internet addiction is yet to create a worldwide alarm, games like the Blue Whale Challenge, which claimed over a 100 lives around the globe, did shake up many.
Experts world over have advocated treating Internet addiction as a clinical disorder.
According to the Internet and Mobile Association of India, Internet penetration in the country stands at 31%.
An official report on Internet addiction in India is yet to see the light of day, however, a study by the Indian Council of Medical Research and National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) found that 4.1% of the 2,755 people surveyed were addicted to cell phones and 1.3% to the Internet.
In fact, according to a 2014 report by AT Kearney, 53% of Indians were hooked onto the Internet throughout the time that they are awake, which is much higher than the global average of 51%.
Consulting psychiatrist at the Delhi's Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Dr Rajiv Mehta, said he sees about 5-8 cases every month and that the addiction is seen across age groups.
“The most prevalent are those who are in the age group of 15-20 or 35-45 years,” he said.
In the later stages of life, he added, people dealing with marital discord or other family problems are more likely to be dependent on their phones. “The age bar, however, is decreasing with each passing day,” he said.
He narrates how an 11-year-old boy from Haryana slashed his wrists after his parents refused to hand him his phone. Not able to devote enough time to their young son, the parents gifted him a mobile phone at quite a young age that would keep him occupied.
“The child would study and play on it while his parents did not let him step out of the house for the fear of him falling in bad company. So, all that the kid had was his phone,” Dr. Mehta recalled. The parents took him to an eye specialist who said that the boys’ eyesight was weakening and asked them to curtail his phone usage.
As the parents confiscated his phone, the kid got irritable and moody. The parents gave in and returned his phone but his eyesight weakened further. When they took his phone away again, he took a kitchen knife and slashed his wrists. “That is when the parents realized that he needed counselling and that there was something really serious going on with their child,” said the doctor.
How Difficult Is It To Identify Addiction?
Not very difficult, say experts. Child psychologist Dr. Yesheswini Kamaraju told News18 that a child is bound to show some signs of addiction.
“There will be changes in his or her behaviour and something as minute as the child going to sleep late at night should also be looked into,” she said.
Dr. Mehta further added that if the child is seen withdrawing from regular activities like playing or talking to people, it should not be taken lightly.
“One can think that the child is spending time on a gadget doing constructive things but as I said, one needs to be more aware and not take even the slightest of behavioural changes casually,” he said.
He added that the addiction could be as bad as being addicted to a drug and indeed, there are internet de-addiction programmes being run by various medical institutes and NGOs, like the ones run by Uday Foundation and NIMHANS.
The success rate of these de-addiction programmes, Dr. Kamaraju pointed out, is quite good.
“Patients are taught what is good and what is not. Those struggling with addiction are told what they do on the internet is unwanted. The main problem with curing this addiction is the lack of knowledge, which makes it largely underreported as compared to other mental issues,” Dr. Mehta added.
Parenting, The Biggest Concern
“Parents, while feeding their already overweight child always say that it will help the child’s physic grow. Nobody is bothered about the repercussions and possibilities of the child remaining overweight or growing up to be obese. It’s the same ignorance that they exercise when they hand over mobile phones to the kids,” Dr Mehta said.
In the aforementioned case of the 11-year-old Haryana boy, the parents didn’t realize that there was something amiss until their kid tried to kill himself.
“This lack of knowledge is rampant. Coupled with their own busy lives, knowingly or unknowingly, they ignore their child. The child will of course resort to other ways of distraction, most common being a gadget,” he added.
Dr. Kamaraju voiced his opinion and said that parenting is perhaps the most lethal weapon to either stimulate the use of Internet or curb it.
“Parents must ensure how the child is coping with his/her emotions and one must see how the child is venting out, which is often the Internet,” she added.
Considering how classrooms these days are going beyond the conventional ways and adopting technology, she added that it makes it all the more imperative for parents to ensure that the children know all about technology, Internet along with its vices.
“It’s very easy for the child to tell the parents that he/she is studying or researching for a project. The parents must ensure that the child knows exactly what the Internet and technology can do to him/her,” the doctor said.
For the young minds, Dr. Kamaraju added, face-to-face interactions are very important.
“The power of eye contact and one-on-one interaction is often undermined by people. The parents need to ensure that they connect with their children over general discussions at the dinner table,” she said.
When it comes to technology, one always looks for role models. “Adults these days are hooked on their phones and then there are family WhatsApp groups, etc. This is what the children see and get influenced by. So, it becomes all the more important for parents and elders around to set a good precedent when it comes to the use of technology,” she added.