This article was originally published on My Mental Health on 11 November 2020.
What is cyber addiction?
A quick google search on “cyber addiction” might throw up differing, or even conflicting, interpretations. Some sources have it listed as a clinical condition, some do not. Others have it classified as “gaming addiction”, “internet addiction”, “phone addiction” or other variations. Without a universal definition or diagnostic criteria, it is little surprise that people (especially parents) often feel lost facing the subject, even though the world is decades into the digital age.
What is widely accepted, however, is the fact that “cyber addiction” is a behavioural addiction featuring pathological, problematic, or compulsive internet and/or digital use.
Signs and Symptoms
The number of hours spent digitally is, by itself, not a good indication of cyber addiction. For example, working adults spend most of their day on some form of digital device for work or leisure but may not necessarily be addicted to them.
The more appropriate measure would be to assess if cyber activities have a negative impact on one’s daily function in four areas: 1) Real-life commitments; 2) Emotional health; 3) Physical health; 4) Social and Behaviour.
Here are some signs and symptoms of how your digital device usage may be affecting you, phrased as questions you can ask yourself or on behalf of the person of concern. They can be answered as “Yes”, “No”, or “Sometimes”. This can help determine if your digital device usage could be a concern:
1) Time spent on cyber activities is affecting your real-life commitments.
- Q: Has your schoolwork/work performance suffered because you spend too much time on your devices?
- Q: Have you ever skipped school/CCA or work to spend time on cyber activities?
2) Your cyber activities are affecting your emotional health.
- Q: Do you become restless or irritable when you can’t use your devices?
- (For Gaming) Q: Do you become disproportionately angry during your games or when you are interrupted in your gaming (e.g. shouting and screaming, throwing objects, etc.)
3) Your cyber activities are affecting your physical health.
- Q: Are you missing important meals to use your devices?
- Q: Are you experiencing problems with your sleep (e.g. insomnia)?
- Q: Do you regularly neglect personal hygiene for your cyber activities (e.g. not showering for days)?
4) Your cyber activities are severely affecting those around you.
- Q: Have you needed to steal money or property to fund your cyber activities?
- Q: Are you spending more money on your cyber activities than you or your family are comfortable with?
- Q: Do you find yourself withdrawing from physical social interaction more and more?
- Q: Have discussions about your cyber activities turned violent or aggressive?
If you answered “Yes” to any of the questions in two or more domains, it may be indicative that excessive device use is a concern. However, that is not conclusive of cyber-addiction for various reasons. For example, the answers are subjective to individual perception or the problems could lie with the domains itself (e.g. struggling with school), and not as a result of device use. It may help to consult the helpline listed below for a professional consultation to support your assessment of the situation.
How it affects mental health
Most commonly, we see excessive device use affecting emotion regulation. Individuals may become more volatile or impulsive (e.g. going into a rage or breaking down easily). They may also lack the necessary strategies to cope with negative thoughts or daily stress, because turning to their cyber activities may have been a crutch.
Mental health may be affected in other ways too, specific to the cyber activities. For example, youths who compulsively trawl social media (Tik Tok, Instagram etc.) may be prone to developing self-esteem issues or an inferiority complex. In other cases, people who excessively indulge in immersive games may lose social skills and develop social anxiety down the line. These instances are more unique and may require professional help.
Why is there a need for treatment?
It is important to address excessive device use as it can severely affect one’s health, life and relationships.
Here are some ways excessive device use may affect individuals, both in the short and long term:
- Poor nutrition and personal hygiene
- Neckaches and backaches
- Dry eyes
- Sense of isolation and loneliness
- Poor anger management and frustration tolerance
- Strain on relationships with family and friends
- Avoidance of school/work
- Inability to keep to schedules
- Poor grades/work performance
If you have identified with the above signs and noticed how your time spent on your devices may have resulted in unhealthy habits that affect your life in negative ways, do seek support and help from your family members. If you think you need more help, seek a therapist.
Acknowledging that your device use is an issue which needs to be rectified is the first step to achieving balance in your life. Understanding the reasons why you play or discovering the underlying needs you are trying to meet with your device use will also help in this process. With self-awareness, suitable strategies, as well as self-discipline, it is possible to enjoy your online activities without them negatively affecting other aspects of your life.
Here are some links to resources and tips on addressing cyber addiction:
- Follow TOUCH Cyber Wellness on Instagram, Facebook and Telegram for updates on digital trends and parenting tips. Here is the link to their Telegram broadcasts: t.me/TCSPSP
- Check out help123.sg for articles on cyber wellness and excessive gaming, and find out if your child might be playing too much.
- In August last year, TOUCH Youth Intervention launched DigitalMINDSET, a cyber wellness counselling programme, for youths with excessive device use and poor emotion regulation. If you think your child might benefit from the programme, you can call the helpline to find out more – TOUCHline 1800 377 2252 (Mon-Fri, 9am-6pm)
This article is contributed by TOUCH Integrated Family Group.
Images by Freepik.