British child psychiatrist: Skill to 'switch off' is becoming increasingly important

Marju Himma
6/16/2015 3:50 PM
Category: Features

Between 3-5 percent of students in Estonia might suffer from Internet addiction disorders, a recent study found. ERR Novaator met in Tallinn with child psychiatrist Richard Graham to discuss technology reliance and online lives of adolescents.

What are the risks when parents are not aware of what their children are doing online or how much they are online?

The question is an important one and something that has attracted a lot of attention in the United Kingdom. Firstly, we need parents to be aware of some of the risks of bullying and exploitation that might occur when the child is online, and if the parent doesn't know what they are doing or is just not talking to them about their online life. That doesn't give a child an opportunity to tell when something difficult is happening.

Also, some children will be secretly or openly spending a large amount of time online in their bedrooms late at night, which might affect their sleep and their concentration the next day.

And of course, the more you're online the more chance of other risks happening. That child might suffer as a result of that.

So, one of the things that we very much promote in the United Kingdom is that parents are aware of their children's use of devices, they are aware of the positives as well as the negatives, and that they are engaging from the early age in talking to children about their digital life.

Is it right to separate children from technology? There are schools in Silicon Valley that do not use digital devices at all. What do you think of that?

We are seeing different strands of research in this, some of which will show, for example in England where some schools ban the use of mobile phone is schools, that the educational attainment, particularly by those who are disadvantaged economically, is significant. For those that are in a better position financially, its neither good nor bad banning a mobile phone. But for the disadvantaged, it may make a very significant difference.

Today our BBC news site was reporting on how students texting while studying are also falling behind in terms of their performance and so we're starting to learn that there is a negative side to technology if it's used in spaces where we need to concentrate or focus on other issues.

I think the point then about being able to switch off and let go, for young people who sleep with their phone and never turn it off, that skills might be a positive one. Not to say they shouldn't use technology, but they have the ability to understand when and where it's best used, to their advantage.

If children are already surfing and texting and are in social media, how can we use that practice for them to learn something from it?

I think you're raising a very interesting question of how can people support each other in using social media in terms of learning. In England, young people form study groups during exams, or homework clubs that are online, and support each other in learning much like they would if they were in a room together studying. So we can see advances in that way.

We can see them support each other as well in relation to the difficult things that happen, whether it's someone being bullied, being shamed in some way, even in the way they use 'likes', retweets, blogs and reblogs to support each other. All of those are very positive. So you raise a very important question of how do we, through our engagement, see the opportunities and not get into 'technology is good' or 'technology is bad' mode of thinking, but really understand the process of how to use it.

You gave a New Year's resolution this year to dream, create and sleep more. Have you accomplished this?

No.

Why not?

I think one of the aspects of the digital world that many of us don't talk so much about, but which keeps people alive, is we think other people are wanting us to respond to messages, notifications, or e-mails as in my case. And so to rest, even though that blue LED is going to affect my sleep hormones, I check very briefly one more time to make sure that when I wake up there won't be someone angry that I haven't seen an important message. So, I think since my New Year's resolution I am understanding that perhaps in terms of policies, we need community spaces and times, companies need policies about emails on what time they get sent out and read. If an organization supports you not responding, then perhaps we can actually not pick up our iPad just before sleep time.

Do we need to reevaluate how we communicate and what we consider valuable information?

The very critical issue of the modern age is the concern of not only what we do in terms of behavior and how we respect others, but what we consider suitable of sharing. I think that applies to all sorts of areas of life.

To give you an example, when reporting of the 9/11 tragedy in the US, the English channels showed the video once, but the Spanish channels had it on a loop. The children who were Spanish-speaking and repeatedly saw people jumping out of the buildings, were much more traumatized than the English-speaking people.

So media has an impact. We see it with eating disorders and in other areas. We see behavior of shaming that seems as far as I can see as primitive as honor killings and stoning of people in the past. So, peculiarly, in spite of all the advantages in technology, we are almost having to learn through human history about how to respect and treat people well, how to empathize and how to sympathize, respect individuals, their privacy and their feelings.

There is lots to learn about the idea that freedom of speech does not mean we need to share everything.

M. Oll

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