Advice on cyberaddiction
Digital Talk: Keeping Young People Connected & Parents Informed
On 25 February 2021, the APEEE ran a digital talk with Dr. Quintans, psychologist and founder of the School of Emotions (www.ecoledesemotions.com/) on the theme of “keeping young people connected and parents informed”.
The session was split up into two parts: a first one focusing on children, whose purpose was to equip them with the necessary know-how enabling them to make healthy use of information and communication tools (ICTs), manage their screen time at home, and also to raise awareness about cyber-addiction; and a second one given over to parents, to let them help their children cope with technology and its pitfalls.
Part 1: Children
In 2021, children have access to far more networked devices than used to be the case back in 1989. Dr. Quintans listed the different ‘screens’ available at her home (tablets, computers, smartphones, TV, etc.), reaching a conclusion that screens have snuck in to finally totally invade family life. Screens however do play a useful role in modern life, but they must be used with wisdom and in moderation.
The last two decades has seen screens proliferating from what used to be merely the family TV, to nowadays a slew of networked screens. Technology evolves quickly, and tools become ever more sophisticated. Sneaky advertising and manipulations techniques are deployed, designed to increase screen time, especially by children and teens.
During the pandemic period, screen ‘facetime’ grew from an average of 3 hours to now about 9 hours per day.
The ICTs – Information and Communication Technologies : Basic Concepts
ICTs deals with the tools used to access the Internet, allowing the sending, receiving and storage of information, sound, etc. ICTs have become commonplace and omnipresent in everyday life.
The internet. The internet is a world-spanning computer network accessible to anyone everywhere, whose information is routed and distributed over data routing systems. The internet is often likened to a spider’s web, whose silken threads reach everywhere.
In the beginning, the internet was not used for social purposes. Created in the US by the military, it was first developed as an electronic mail exchange system to safely work around possible blackouts and any interruptions, and to prevent adversaries from being able to interfere with communications.
A unique strength of the internet lies in the wholly uninterrupted flow of communication it provides. Whatever is posted on the internet, published on a website, or sent/shared over social networks, stays on the Web (aka the Internet).
Why use ICT?
- For spending leisure time surfing the Web,
- For easy access to information: however, since not everything may be truthful and/or factual on the Web, sources, facts and stories must be confirmed and checked, e.g. by using multiple (credible and trustworthy) websites,
- Being creative in a variety of ways.
ICTs have made information accessible to all and thereby made it more democratic: access to information, guidance, advice, etc. are freely accessible on the internet. However, the Internet is only widespread in some regions of the world as of yet. A percentage of the world population still have little or no access to the Internet.
- Name all the screens you see and/or use every day.
- What apps do you use? Name them.
- Do you sometimes use screens because you are bored? To feel less alone?
- Name 3 things you like about screens.
- Name 3 things you dislike about screens.
- What networks/social media platforms do you use every day? What do you think of social networks?
There are many social networks, of which the most well-known are: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram.
A lot of young people are keen to garner as many likes, comments, etc. on the content they post, such as pictures. Using screens has been shown to release dopamine (the so-called happiness hormone) which can make it difficult to stop.
Some of the published content on some networks is unhealthy, and some content creators rely on their young audience being gullible to try and scam them.
The 10 Commandments of the Smart User:
- Always keep your profile private.
- Enter as little personal information as possible.
- Only link up with people you know.
- Never share intimate photos.
- Choose the groups and conversations in which you wish to participate wisely.
- Do not argue or swear on networks.
- Distinguish between true and false information (fake news, outright lies, images created via artificial intelligence (AI), doctored images, etc.)
Questions to ask regarding information from Internet sources
- Is the information demonstrably neutral and objective?
- Who is the author?
- Is the source reliable?
- Is the data up to date?
- Are any outside references given?
- People who advertise products make money from doing so! They never do it for nothing.
- If you have experienced discomfort or unease on-line, talk about it! with your parents, friends, etc.
- Behave online as you would in real life.
Any young person between the ages of 6 and 11 should not spend more than 2 hours a day on a screen (excluding screen time for educational purposes).
It is advised not to authorise the use of social media before the age of 12. From 12 years old, parents should schedule and set up timetables to limit time spent in front of a screen.
Screens are claiming more and more space in our everyday life. They serve a variety of purposes, such as dealing with stress, avoiding boredom or loneliness, all of which can sometimes lead to excessive use.
Signs of excessive use: occasional loss of cool in front of screens, difficulty to ‘stop and leave’, a propensity to fudge the truth or outright lie in relation to how much time was spent on-line, too much time spent thinking about the online life (even when away from the Web), everyday live social relations losing their sheen and allure, one becomes more easily edgy, moody or irritable, …
Heavy use can cause physical ailments: eye strain, stinging and/or dry eyes, headaches.
Essential tasks such as homework and other duties should always take precedence over any leisure time spent afterwards in the online world.
Eyes contain cells that are extremely sensitive to blue light. The light given off by screens triggers these cells: it activates photosensitive retina receptors 100 times more intensely than traditional white light. This is why screens will keep you awake, which in turn affects how much you sleep, as well as the very quality of your sleep.
The posture associated with using a screen can easily give rise to wricks in the neck, and headaches. Excessive use of screens also has been known to lead to obesity, whenever sitting in front of a screen leads to mindless, ongoing snacking, and hence to weight gain.
Beware of the illusion of perfection which can easily be generated online, and to the possible resulting self-esteem issues. As mentioned above, published and shared images are generally edited and doctored to display perfect features.
The virtual world may lead to F.O.M.O, the fear of missing out, to wit, the fear of missing out on something, missing an activity, a publication, a post, a picture, etc.
Hacking can happen, whereby access to your computer or device is gained by an illegitimate and unauthorised third party. It can happen through benign-looking emails sent out asking you to click on some link or to download some file or other, under some pretence (such as an alleged emergency, an appeal to charity or ‘urgent help’, a promise of huge returns or easy money, etc.) Never click on unsolicited links, as these may then automatically download malware onto your computer, wholly unbeknownst to yourself.
Phishing is also a frequent occurrence. You should never give out your banking or any personal data (such as your address, date of birth, etc.) on the internet.
Phishing also occurs when a person, after establishing a relationship, asks for information, money, or promises rewards in exchange for your personal information. You should never reply to these messages and never ever divulge personal data.
Disrespectful behaviours: violent content, insults, etc. are also frequent on the internet. You have to be careful and always act appropriately.
Internet sexuality: more and more young people are introduced to sexuality on the internet. Sexting is the act of sending sexually explicit messages / videos / photos. Sextortion happens when such are requested, and then used for blackmail. Young people may engage innocently enough, in a bid to be accepted, to increase popularity, for fun, or even as a dare. Always remember that there is no such thing as privacy on the internet. A compromising photo can spread very quickly online and thereby cause untold harm.
Your body is not an object, never be fooled by shady people on the internet who blithely promise secrecy or non-disclosure. A photo posted or uploaded on the internet or sent via the internet is never protected and will stay there, accessible by anyone, forever.
Cyber-addiction is the term for when a child becomes addicted to the internet. Screen addiction should not be shrugged off or dismissed: it can become dangerous.
What are the signs of cyber-addiction?
The first sign is when you think too much about your social networks, when you seek to increase the time you spend on-line, you become restless and irritable, your relationships with other people are gradually becoming lost because of the time you spend on-line, etc. These signs may betoken full-blown addiction, or depending on intensity, at the very least warn of impending addiction.
When a person becomes the target of violence, verbal aggression, intimidation, harassment, etc. This is quite serious.
Cyberbullying is punishable by law, as per article 145 of the June 13, 2005 law on electronic communication, which condemns the use of an electronic means of communication for abusive purposes.
If you are bullied or cyberstalked at school, you must tell someone: your parents, a teacher, your counsellor, the school psychologist or even the APEEE. You are never alone.
Their intentions are, simply put, mostly evil. There is never any shame in being fooled at first, because some of these operators use sophisticated techniques to snare you. If it does happen, your first steps are to immediately stop responding and communicating in any way, block the individual and save all traces of messages, photos, etc. You should also report the situation to an adult, e.g. your parents or a psychologist or school counsellor.
A piece of advice
Always seek to achieve balance in your life. Balance between homework and leisure time incl. screens, balance between having fun and duties, balance between rest and physical activities, etc.
Dr. Quintans tells us that one hour of screen can be compensated for by two hours of movement (outdoors, physical activities, walking, etc.).
You have to make for time without screens and for socialising in your life. Go out, hobnob a bit, meet people in the flesh.
It is important to note that the longer a child cloisters him/herself and keeps to his/her screens, the more he/she will lose the habit of socialising, and therefrom his/her personal and social skills.
Make plans with your parents. Set limits and a ‘digital curfew’ are good ideas which can be implemented together with parents.
Dedicate a space for using these technologies – define a time dedicated to screens and to the use of social networks, the Internet, etc.
Part 2: for parents
Children born after 2000 were born into a world of social networks and the internet. They grew up at a time that saw the spread and fast expansion of the internet. The internet is a part of their life. It takes dedicated effort to ‘tame the beast’.
The right attitude
We must be interested in the internet they have easy access to, and know of its dangers. We must keep well-informed and be aware of what is good and what is bad on the web. We must not be daunted by social networks and the complexity of the virtual world.
It is all about facing problems, not about demonising nor fearing the internet, or fighting against it, but about planning and finding solutions. It is essential that a climate of trust be established with your child, which will be far more effective than parental control type apps can ever be.
Dialogue and communication are the keys to a lasting relationship. There are pitfalls, but there are also very good things on the Internet.
We must remain vigilant. Safety must never be taken lightly; responsible oversight never equates to intrusive spying. Explain if you must look at the history of the sites visited, etc. (but also bear in mind that history and past searches can easily be deleted.)
Experts recommend: no screens for under 3-year-olds, no game consoles for under 6-year-olds, no internet for under 9-year-olds. Set up clear limits on screen time, at 9-years-old they can browse the internet but not in the bedroom, to avoid their becoming isolated.
Cell phones (smartphone) usually should not be given until the age of 12 or 13, but situations sometimes make it necessary, for instance to be able to contact your child.
Situations and experiences are unique to each family. What is good for one family may not necessarily be so for another. Dr. Quintans shared a number of generic, overall tips, which may be implemented in your home as you see fit.
Children are resilient: parlay their mistakes into teaching moments!
There should be no tolerance at all for disrespectful and violent behaviour online. If your child has insulted or disrespected someone else, for example a classmate on a platform, immediate punishment from the parents as well as from the school is called for. The child must understand the consequences of such acts. Children need to understand that such behaviours are punishable by law. These behaviours shall not be taken lightly.
Ideally, an alliance between the school and the parents to deal with these harmful behaviours should be set up. Parents should talk among themselves, set common rules easy to implement within the community.
Technologies are continually improving. It has become today virtually impossible to live without the help of screens, especially with new developments such as distance learning and online research. Our attitudes and MOs must evolve alongside technology, and building a relationship of trust with our children is essential.
For more information on screen time for children / teens, Dr Quintans recommends the site: https://www.yapaka.be/
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