Dr Neha Bhave Salankar is an MD in Psychiatry, who works as a Consultant Psychiatrist in Nagpur. Read what Neha has to say about the excessive usage of Internet by the millennials and the risks associated with it…
The Internet arrived with a bang in the early 1990s and is here to stay. The number of Internet users have exploded from nearly 16 million users in 1995 to more than 4000 million in 2019. No other technology in the history of humans has witnessed such rapid adaptation be it telephones, radio or television. The ‘Millennials’ have never known a life without Internet and are engrossed in creating an online identity and effectively creating a double life. In my debut article, I chose to elaborate the risk aspect of unrestrained internet use as it is something applicable to everyone without a bar of age, gender, social and financial status.
There are differences in a way a male would use the net versus a female. Girls are more motivated by social reasons – interaction, shopping, surveillance/ information, while boys are more motivated by eroticism, gaming, etc. Male Internet users are more at risk of Internet addiction (yes, that’s becoming a thing now) owing to more use of sexual contents and also decreased parental supervision in teens as compared to females.
While we all know the immense benefits of Internet, we really ought to give a thought to how it can negatively impact us. Excess Internet use can lead to a lack of creativity, especially in children and adolescents. It might seem ironic that while Internet connects us to virtually millions of people across the globe, in real life it can result in social isolation from family, neighbours and sometimes, even friends.
The physical inactivity from indulging in excess internet ushers far reaching consequences, not to mention immediate issues like eye strain, soreness and stiffness of body and sleep disturbance. Exposure to violence can occur either through videos online or via games and this is more troublesome in adolescents who often tend to replicate such actions in real life.
Apart from these, at times Internet use can just be a massive waste of time! How many times do we go online in search of something and then find ourselves browsing through videos of cute puppies, checking photos of a person whom we knew back in the 3rd grade or window-shopping! Statistics show that an average Facebook user spends whopping 50 minutes a day on FB and checks profile 14 times a day. And the number of WhatsApp users have increased from 700 million in 2015 to 1.2 billion in 2017 (India being the biggest user).
Another emerging problem is with ‘body-image’ issues. As can be guessed, this is more common in women but men are not exempted either. Streaming media and visiting shopping, fashion, celebrity, and magazine websites, all likely to have an appearance focus and to promulgate thin beauty ideals can lead to widespread body dissatisfaction. How many of us edit photos before uploading them online? Most do. And there are several apps like Photo wonder, facetune, creamcam, skinny camera, which does exactly that – something that should lead us to think, “Is everything we see online real?” Interestingly, Facebook users scored significantly higher on all indicators of body image concern.
Internet gaming is rapidly gaining ground as an addictive entity. Young adults are know to carry out ‘marathon gaming,’ which can last anywhere between three hours to over 100 hours! It’s not difficult to imagine the condition of a person sitting in front of a screen without sleep or food and only small toilet breaks.
There are also certain dangers of cyber environment. Cyber bullying is type of harassment, which is safer and easier for the perpetrators than physical bullying because there is hardly any regulation or law to control the problems. Privacy disruption as well harassment can be very intimidating. Online predators can contact subjects for extortion or blackmailing, threatening to post explicit images on the Internet. Victims are asked for money or more commonly sexual favours. The painful tale of American teenager Amanda Todd is a prime example of how things can spiral out of control (you can find it online). The permanency of any content online has far reaching consequences.
We know that these days children also have easy access to Internet. While no person in his right mind will let it happen willingly, but accidents do happen. More gruesome is children viewing pornography. An adult who begins to view porn is a different matter. In a child, it can manifest in a different way, which is more complex, harder to treat. Porn surfing causes a digital rewiring of the child’s brain to need novelty, excitement and constant arousal, making them out of sync with traditional classrooms and romantic relationships.
Pornography has an adverse effect on older adolescent boys and young men already at high risk for aggressive behaviour. Impulsivity, hostility towards women, and promiscuity can be the result. Also, as adults they end up having a higher rate of sexual aggression.
I would like to end by addressing a burning question – How much time is too much time on the Internet for kids and teens? Guidelines by the American Psychiatric Association state that for children under two years old – no screen time at all. Children between two to 10 years – one hour per supervised time online. For tweens and teens – no more than two hours a day after homework is complete.
I can think of nothing more applicable to this situation than words of John Curran, “Eternal vigilance is the price of Liberty” and in today’s age, nothing grants us greater freedom than the limitless world of the Internet, thus requiring greater vigilance than ever.