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New children's addictions: Internet, video games and television

New children's addictions: Internet, video games and television

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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 have this problem yet, but I think they can at least have the abuse, which is the prelude to addiction.


  • 1 The dangers of addictions in childhood and adolescence
  • 2 Watch out for TV
  • 3 Video games: games or addiction?
  • 4 What about the Internet?
  • 5 Criteria for addiction to video games and the Internet
  • 6 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, ingestion 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 someone who lets himself be dominated by the use of a drug but we also talk about the fundamental components of addictive disorders that would be the loss of control, dependence and the negative affectation of the will of the people who let themselves be dominated by their impulses, and these criteria are met 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, they give us information and training, and they are totally harmless whenever they know how to use them. They are basic, I would say essential in our lives and also our children have already been born and raised with them.

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

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

In Spain we are starting with studies on this subject. The scientific community, psychologists, psychiatrists and sociologists disagree, discuss 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?

Watch out for TV

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

All mothers have succumbed many times to the temptation to let the children leave us a little calm, sitting, silent and absorbed before the best nanny in the world. However, this is not an attenuator for our guilt ... we are simply human and sometimes they overflow us and we can "turn a blind eye" to certain excesses at very specific moments.

With this I want to apologize in advance for those "lapses" in which we have all fallen, to leave them two hours in front of that wonderful nurse who offered them cartoons that miraculously kept them quiet, while the parents dedicated themselves to other needs.

If we rely on the series called "childish", we find a barrage of heroes who take the 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 certainly 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 evident. What happens in a house when the television breaks down? Sometimes nothing because there is usually more than one, but if it is the only device it can cause a whole “monkey” symptom that goes through despair to find a professional to fix it as soon as possible or even leave us another while it is fixed . Let's have some information about what our children see.

I will enumerate the effects of "excess" understanding that when it exceeds an hour and a half daily on weekdays and many more on weekends, we already talk about abuse. We start from the basis that this is for children over two years old, since for children under this age it is essential to avoid being seen for the damages that may result.

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

In younger children

  • They are more aggressiveThey play to fight and kick because they have grown up with the martial arts of the Japanese. Children aged 4 or 5 have no critical capacity. What they see on TV, for them is reality. They imitate what they see. A recent study conducted three months ago tells us that our children see about two thousand violent acts a year. Movies, series, cartoons, images of news, with violent scenes or sexual content and all this in its time slot. Let's not talk about the new tele-reality spaces that have been displaced by children's programs that currently only those with contracted television platforms can afford. That telereality 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 the critical sense and that is also a form of violence.
  • Night terrors may appear, nightmares, fear of turning off the light, for the violent images they see when they are not yet ready to assimilate them. We have to keep in mind that they usually watch television when they still can't speak.
  • It can delay the appearance of language. The left cerebral hemisphere is say "the one in charge" of verbal functions, and on television it becomes numb, as we see in the child who finally appears calm, with his mouth ajar, his eyes very fixed, and therefore receiving stimuli from nonverbal nature. At two years according to Chomsky (a psycholinguist expert), the child is very sensitive to the stimuli that generate a verbal response in him. Before television, the child does not perceive that anyone expects his verbal response, that they demand an answer and therefore will show a delay in language. It is a unidirectional communication system and is depriving the child of the wonderful contact that occurs when his mother tells him a story, in which not only the response to the child who asks is involved, but also imagination, analysis and synthesis from the point intellectual view, but also deprives him of the maternal affective contact that is irreplaceable and that "mother television" is not able to give and that favors as we know, even intellectual development.
  • It replaces the game, which as we know for the child implies a real job, since through it he develops the imagination, when for example, the quilt can become a mountain range through which the stroller crosses, it favors the interrelation with other children when the game involves more people , and he is deprived of what he may most like: manipulate, dirty, experiment, browse and manipulate and learn from his surroundings.
  • The abuse of television It can cause depression, anxiety and other emotional problems, can be distrustful and according to a study published recently in America. We are talking about studies that distinguish children with six hours of television, in relation to the control group that watched a suitable television. These children may present social and psychological problems.

In teenagers, the problem may be even greater. 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. Delay in the answers, 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 the study.
  • Stereotyped language, limited and with abuse of swear words.
  • False values ​​installation, (money, beauty, power) identification with undesirable situations that are offered almost as normal on the small screen.
  • Inappropriate hours, little night 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 he sees until adolescence, if he does not present significant imbalances, it is very frequent that he at least tolerates violence in others, he can justify it.
  • It completely destroys the 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 must 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 should not reach two for teenagers.
  • You should not watch television in the dark, or in poor light. And children should not see her 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) sports, competitions, family series, documentaries, etc.
  • Establish with the child, schedules, night programs that you want to see if you are over 12 years old, it can be like a prize, or see Fridays for example whenever the program is adequate, but always respecting the hours of sleep (at least eight for everyone, desirable)
  • Even a constructive criticism is made of what they are seeing so that children have a guideline on what happens on the small screen.
  • Avoid that television is constantly on, make the family enjoy the silence of their surroundings, in which you can talk, think, listen to music, read and even study! ... But for this we must not forget the first premise of education : Setting an example. That is why knowledge of a not so complicated reality is essential: Your television set has a button that turns it off!

Video games: games or addiction?

Let us now turn to the great nightmare, perhaps because it is more novel, of the parents 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 it easier to access this hobby, since it was not essential to have a computer in the house. This has facilitated the percentages that have been commented on in the last study carried out by the Youth Institute, together with the FADE, and which gives us the following data:

  • Almost 6 out of 10 teenagers 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 of four teenagers says they play more than two hours each day of the week, increasing the hours on weekends.
  • The starting age in the game is older than 12 years old and a high fidelity rate is maintained: 50% of the players have been for more than four years.
  • The group most likely to be hooked, is 8 to 13 years since in adolescence, even if they continue playing, if there are no problems and there is adequate socialization and there is no abuse found the boy will begin to take interest in other activities.
  • Almost 45% of teenagers admit having had a problem because of the game. 21.4% refers to school problems, 20.6% to discussions with parents, 15.3% to sleep less and 14.3% to forget the commitments.

I think that these figures from the study conducted in June last year, is sufficiently explanatory.

As for the conclusions of themselves there are special pathologies that arise from the abuse of video games there are conflicting opinions. It is not known if the child with low self-esteem, socialization problems and family relationship takes refuge and finds the way out in a virtual world in which he is valued and in which he reaches the imaginary dreams, or if on the contrary it is the fact to spend so much time in an unreal world, which means that later he does not know how to face the reality of life, with its successes and failures. Others believe that it is aggressive children who opt for aggressive games, or conversely 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 lies in how attentive the parents are to this hobby. The time allowed to play, the games they buy, etc ...

Before we begin to see the criteria by which addiction to games can be defined, let's look at their qualities that also have them:

Positive aspects of video games

  • They provide a greater psychomotor skill, 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 of the controls.
  • The reflexes increaseIt has to be fast and effective.
  • Logical reasoning and decision-making are stimulated, since they must play with many variables at the same time.
  • May improve hearing 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 football, somehow this activity carried out in moderation can compensate the child and make him feel more integrated in the group.

But I would say that here the honeymoon ends with video games, because you will tell me rightly, that if this is so, because every day there is greater 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 that we allow the abuse that can be committed in addiction.

There are also dangers that I will detail, and that we will have to take into account when leaving our children hooked to the game consoles.

Dangers of video games

  • Let's keep in mind that there are games that involve running over virtual people or killing Germans in World War II. One of the greatest dangers of abuse or the use of this type of game is obviously the encourage subsequent aggressive behaviors.
  • 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 especially strong and powerful.
  • Most cause high doses of adrenaline, stimulating three of the five senses, in a fast-paced exchange of auditory and visual speed, which demands a rapid response and a series of nervous and repetitive movements.
  • A boy or girl who is exposed to video games for many hours may have consequences of hypersensitivity at the neurological level and will produce greater excitability, overstimulation and hyperactivity. Sometimes an increase in the activity of the autonomic nervous system can be seen perfectly, with hand sweating, tachycardia, increased respiratory rate.
  • Contrary to what can happen in children who play in a group and in a controlled way, there is danger that the child can be isolated in solitary games and hinder the social skills you need for your evolution. In this case, it would encourage the shyness of the child against the real world.
  • May divert the concentration of other tasks and other ways of workingIf 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 too late, and before bedtime, he can impair normal sleep rhythm. We will not get tired of saying how fundamental the dream 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 maintain 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 psychic problems, and this causes the child's cognitive process to continue its normal development. The information we need to know as parents is that this hormone is only produced at night, and if we alter sleep or reduce it, 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 playing time for a child should be one hour and better in separate 30 minute periods. Deny it with it. If you do your homework properly, leaving ten extra minutes can be a reward.
  • It is preferable to buy multi-player video games to foster the relationship with other children. Also vary the theme, platforms, sports, strategy, etc.
  • Always know what videogame 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 refuse to have them.
  • If the child has epilepsy, he must 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 resist, but for the children of now as for the usual, there is no game that can replace the relationship of affectivity of their parents, their attention, their disposition towards them. Make them see that life can also be watching a game together, rollerblading, cycling, swimming, hiking, etc, etc.

What's up with the internet?

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

The profile most likely to have abuse or addiction problems are especially those introverted children or youth, 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 they should not prove anything to anyone, because among other things they are 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 dangerous. Let's say there is much more problem of addiction in boys who have the following characteristics.

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

Internet benefits

  • It is simply the future, and we should not fear to resist progress.
  • It is a wonderful source of information, which can help in the studies of children in a fantastic way
  • It can make them establish better relations of friendship, since sometimes they say 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 training.
  • You can start hobbies, such as knowing about movies, characters that interest you, etc ...

But obviously regardless of how extraordinary the internet is positive, it can also have dangers for children.

Internet dangers

The main danger is addiction whose symptoms I will describe later.

  • Children can have Access to degrading, racist, violent pornographic images or contacting 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 teenagers who already start with the famous virtual loves, which will never replace the personal relationship, without computers in between.
  • Although it does not become addiction since it does not have the requirements for the criteria to be met, the young man you can isolate yourself too much from your computer screen, losing hours of sleep with the chat, or playing, which obviously will harm your studies and your social relationships that are necessary for your training.

How to control the Internet?

  • Clearly explain that anyone can, on the Internet, lie about himself, and may be talking to an unbalanced adult. Therefore, as we do in real life, we will tell you that you should never talk to someone you do not know.
  • You should never give your full name, address, telephone number and other personal information.
  • Never meet someone you have met online, unless you approve or be present.
  • Have programs that block xenophobic or violent or pornographic content that, as we know, is online, without any restrictions.
  • The computer must be able to be controlled by you. Regardless of the privacy to which he is also entitled, his as a father is to control from time to time what his son visits, with whom he speaks, 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 discuss the criteria that are being studied to classify new addictions, which in this information refer to children and adolescents, but do not forget that this new addiction also fills the consultations of psychiatrists attending to parents of family…

Criteria for addiction to video games and the Internet

Although 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 It continues to consume despite its undesirable effects, due to phenomena of tolerance and abstinence.

The tolerance is defined when the addict needs more and more time in the network (more and more hours) to experience the same degree of satisfaction and withdrawal syndrome, (discomfort and restlessness when you 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.

Addiction can be considered 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. Think 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 a video game (between 20 and 40 hours per week).
  4. Neglect the relationship life, especially with family, study, etc.
  5. Be restless or distressed when you are not connected to a chat.
  6. Try to cut with the computer and not get it.

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

Other features

  • Sleep deprivation. You surf more during the night. You chat especially at night.
  • Extreme irritability when he is 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.
  • Neglect one's health as a consequence of the use of the network, they will not eat or eat dinner, or 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, backaches, wrist pain, etc ...

Well I think we've done a quick review of the dangers of new technologies for the mental health of our children. However, I don't want to end this reflection without telling you something that you probably already know. Nothing and nobody 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 who 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 They do, we will realize in time to help you overcome it.

Isabel Menéndez Benavente