Mental Health

Ask the Expert: Prolonged use of electronic devices

By Douglas Berger, M.D., Ph.D. on January 22, 2015

However vital the use of electronic devices is in children’s lives, prolonged hours of use can have a negative impact on their health and behavior. You can reduce the risk with help from the experts.

How do you draw the line between a healthy use of electronic devices and addiction?

When persons are using a device to an extent that it impairs their ability to spend time with people important to them or to do important activities. For example to study important things or to do work-related things, or to relate to people without frequently being on the device. When grades or work performance falter or persons around them frequently get aggravated with them for being on a device then it is clearly “unhealthy”. If the person is on a device “a lot” but there is no obvious impairment it may not be “unhealthy”, but may still be “wasting time” in some sense.

Most parents create house rules regarding the use of electronic devices at home which eventually creates anxiety in children that later leads to bad behavior. What type of behavior should parents be worried about?  First there is the spending too much time on a device leading to impairment in scholastic or social function as noted above. Next is if the child is getting involved with a social network on line that may include receiving or giving cyber-bulling, bad-mouthing, meeting inappropriate people, or lewd activities etc. These problems require individualized investigation, discussion, and intervention.

What specific situations should children be seen by a psychiatrist? Impairment in scholastic or social function, on-line social problems (that may spill-over into the real world), “zoning-in” to being on a device, depression, truancy, and any other concerning mental or behavioral issue.

Dr. Douglas Berger and his staff at the Meguro Counseling Center in the Shibuya-Ebisu area provide mental health care for individuals, couples, and families, in both English and Japanese.

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