By Fatma Bulbul
ISTANBUL (AA) - "Technology addiction is like any other addiction, such as alcohol or drug abuse, which can cause serious problems," says Professor Arzu Onal Sonmez, a child and adolescent psychiatrist in Istanbul.
"One of my patients destroyed everything in their living room when their parent seized their technology," she tells Anadolu Agency.
Although technology – our smartphones, our tablets and our computers – are an essential part of today's world and helps to make our lives easier, it can lead people, especially children to become addicted.
Despite the positive aspects of technology, the popularity of social networking, gaming and apps has also started to encroach upon free time and damage people’s social interactions.
Turkey's Green Crescent Society (Yesilay), an anti-addiction body, organized its third International Congress of Technology Addiction earlier this month in Istanbul.
Speaking at the event Turkey’s First Lady Emine Erdogan said that technology had become a threat, as it offered an opportunity for addiction.
"We, as parents or teachers, should teach our children the proper use of technology. Technology is a very significant opportunity for humanity if its use is limited, legal, conscious and in a responsible way," Erdogan said.
The Green Crescent has described Internet and technology addiction as people feeling deprived when in the absence of their chosen technologic product.
According to the Turkish Statistics Institute (TUIK) figures in 2013, computer use starts at the age of eight on average in the 6-15 age category. Internet use among the same demographic starts at nine, on average.
Of children aged between six and 15, almost 40 percent used the Internet up to two hours per week. Nearly half were online between three to 10 hours a week and an alarming 11.8 percent used the net between 11 to 24 hours a week.
A TurkStat survey on Information and Communication Technology (ICT) usage in 2015 revealed that 94.2 percent of individuals used the internet regularly almost every day or, at the very least, once a week.
This excessive usage can lead to a diagnosis of addiction. “If a child does not fulfill its main responsibilities such as bathing, doing homework and spends the whole time with technologic products we could call this addictive," Sonmez said.
Sonmez says that children can choose technology over communicating face-to-face because it takes less effort to interface with a device, rather than a living, breathing human being. "Children do not have to make any effort to communicate, as in real life. They are just touching the screen to start a conversation; they do not have to speak face-to-face or eye-to-eye."
"We can say technology is an easier way of communicating. It is more controlled compared to face-to-face relations," Sonmez adds.
Dr. Burcin Demirkan, a psychologist at the Child-Family Counseling Center in Istanbul, also draws attention to unhelpful behaviors from families which can trigger the addiction in children.
"Families do not set aside quality time for their children. When they come home from work they cannot focus on their children because they continue to think about their jobs," she said.
So children try to fill the emotional gap with technology because they think that their families do not regard them enough, she adds. "They [children] try to get the feeling from the computer. They try to get a sense of friendship through the Internet."
Commenting on the effects of the extreme use of technology, Demirkan said it had a negative impact on children’s ability to focus on lectures. She claims they can feel deprived if denied access to their devices and adds that addiction could lead to visual disorders and impact on their social life.
Prof. Sonmez agrees, adding that addiction can also cause obesity and anxiety in such children.
She recommends parents to clarify the rules and boundaries about using technology: "Too much of anything is bad. If a child reads a lot it is harmful as well. They should speak and chat with their friends also."
Demirkan also suggested parents spend more time with their children and organize outdoor activities. "Children have to use the technology to learn, families should teach them how to use it in educational activities."
She said a total technology ban was not a solution. Instead parents should set a specific period of time – as Yesilay suggests – for a pre-school child to use the internet just for 30 minutes in a day. For high-school students, it is enough to have two hours in a day.
Dr. Alper Aksoy, a psychologist from Istanbul’s Addiction Diagnosis and Treatment Center (BATEM) talks about the treatments they have done for the technology-addicted minors aged 16 and over. "We prefer the families to get involved in the treatments. Their [the families'] approach during the treatment has an importance for us. They should learn to control the addiction, not just forbid it."
Aksoy says their approach is to change addicted people's behaviors because they will have to use the Internet eventually: "Boys mostly prefer to play games while girls prefer to chat with their friends and visit shopping websites,” he said.
"We teach them the ways to cope with their stress. Our treatment depends on a patient's problems. If they are asocial or depressive we treat them accordingly."
This addiction is mostly seen in people who have impulse-control disorder, he adds. According to the Psychiatric Times, this disorder can also include behaviors like pathological gambling, kleptomania and pyromania.
Sonmez agrees, saying that they used different treatment ways depending on the child. "If they are using technology to eliminate their anxiety we are using a treatment to handle it,” she said.
"If they are playing PC games too much we try to figure out the reasons why they want to play that game especially. After we clarify the reasons, we suggest they play one game in a day instead of three."
Instead of an activity, for example playing an instrument, which requires a long time to enjoy, the children generally prefer the instant gratification which online games offer, according to Sonmez.
"We commonly see a type of addiction which captures the children who have an impulsive character which means when they [the children] play a game they immediately win or lose then skip to next level."
She said that they carried out various methods of treatment for every child “but not every single treatment is appropriate for every child."
For as long as adults remain wedded to their smartphones, laptops and tablets, children will also run the risk of such beguiling technology taking over their lives – making the work of Istanbul’s medical experts even more important.