Real life vs. living online

Electronic devices may seem like a great babysitter or a way to keep in touch with others but they can turn into an addiction.

Lots of people can’t seem to put down their iPhones, watching for every text message, twitter or facebook post to the point where they walk down the street oblivious to what’s going on around them due to the distraction of their digital device. And evidence and research is showing that digital devices are every bit as much of an addiction as drugs or alcohol, perhaps even worse.

While you don’t need alcohol or drugs to live, digital devices are necessary, which makes it important to strike a balance between using them when needed, and perhaps for entertainment, and putting them down to take part in everyday life.

Addiction is the continued repetition of a behavior despite adverse consequences, or a neurological impairment leading to such behaviors. Addictions can include, but are not limited to drug abuse, exercise addiction, food addiction, computer addiction and gambling. Classic hallmarks of addiction include impaired control over substances or behavior, preoccupation with substance or behavior, continued use despite consequences, and denial. Habits and patterns associated with addiction are typically characterized by immediate gratification (short-term reward), coupled with delayed long-term costs.

Cpl. Mike Dame is working with the RCMP’s Drugs and Organized Crime Awareness Service, based out of an RCMP building here separate from the detachment. He helps communities and individuals make healthy choices for living and has done a lot of research and made his own observations about electronics and their addictive capabilities.

“When I speak with parents and make the connection of electronic devices to the definition of addiction, they usually immediately have a story of how their kids won’t stop playing with the devices, how they fight with their kids about use of devices, how their kids are isolating themselves to access their devices, how they are not going outside and playing – they prefer to sit on the couch beside their friend and play with their friends with no actual physical communication between them and a few have stated that when they took away the device, their normally non-violent child struck at them for the first time ever,” said Dame.“All you have to do is bring up the topic and make the connection of addiction and electronic devices and the light comes on [in their minds].”

For children nowadays to grow, develop, access information and communicate, electronic devices are part of their lives, he added. With substance abuse, the solution is abstinence but electronic devices can’t be abandoned entirely.

“Speaking from my own personal experience as a father, I know that I am the enabler for my children to have electronic devices and still struggle with the balance of keeping them exercising, growing, learning, providing them with information, developing skills to make healthy life choices on their own and face all the same challenges as the other parents out there,” he said.

“From the research I have read and relying on life skills and common sense, no one focus – consuming one food group only, to doing only one exercise over and over, only learning about one topic etc – in excess is a healthy practice and creates a huge imbalance in life.”

In an article titled “Why are video games addictive in nature,” the authors say parents need to move on from the fear of their children becoming addicted to smoking, drinking or taking drugs and look at whether their prepubescent child or adolescent is getting addicted to video games.

Dame said this statement is true in a lot of ways and a person has to be realistic by focussing on, and being aware of, all threats.

For most families in 2014, children have their own electronic devices or access to them most of the time, but that doesn’t hold for illegal substances, he said.

“How many children under 14 have that type of access to substances on a daily basis, if at all? Several of the research papers suggest restricting electronic use to two hours a day – that includes TV time. Most importantly, though, parents should help their kids find alternatives to video games.”

Trying to get their children into sports, joining the school band or an after-school club, or just playing outside are some ways to do that, he said.

“Don’t be afraid of the words, ‘I’m bored.’ The truth is, if they get bored enough, they’ll find something to do, you just have to monitor to ensure it is a good activity,” said Dame. “You can always offer to give them some extra chores and see how fast they get creative and un-bored.”

In a 2013 survey “Young Canadians in a Wired World, Phase 3, Life Online,” 39 per cent of students with cell phones sleep with them in case they get calls or messages during the night – the peak is just over 50 per cent of students by Grade 11, but 20 per cent of Grade 4 students also sleep with their phones.

It also said the most frequent online activity reported by students was playing online games (59 per cent). And online gaming can also become an addiction for young people.

Game designers are always looking for ways to make the games more interesting so people spend more time playing them.

Games are made to be just difficult enough to be challenging while letting players achieve small accomplishments that compel them to keep playing.

Massive Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games are considered especially addictive because there’s no ending.

The study did show some positives such as parents who are engaged in their children’s online lives. More than 84 per cent of the children said they have rules about being online, their parents going online with them or teaching their children about online issues.

Additional sources:

Angres DH, Bettinardi-Angres K (October 2008). “The disease of addiction: origins, treatment, and recovery”. Dis Mon 54 (10): 696–721.

American Society for Addiction Medicine (2012). Definition of Addiction.

Morse RM, Flavin DK (August 1992). “The definition of alcoholism. The Joint Committee of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and the American Society of Addiction Medicine to Study the Definition and Criteria for the Diagnosis of Alcoholism”. JAMA 268 (8): 1012–4.

Marlatt GA, Baer JS, Donovan DM, Kivlahan DR (1988). “Addictive behaviors: etiology and treatment”. Annu Rev Psychol 39: 223–52.

What makes a Video Game Addictive?

Young Canadians in a Wired World, Phase 3, Life Online, MediaSmarts 2014.


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