NEW DELHI: Although invented with the aim of making life easier and convenient, the increasing use of smartphones and the internet by schoolgoing children and teenagers is slowly exposing them to less important and more addictive things like cyber bullying and online pornography, mental health experts have warned.
Reports suggest that an increasing number of teenagers are being trapped into the deadly Internet game Blue Whale Challenge. A Google Trends report of the past 12 months shows a sharp spike in the number of searches related to the Blue Whale Challenge in India.
"Smartphones are addictive in nature and the Internet can be misused for games such as Blue Whale Challenge, pornography, etc," Deepti Kukreja, Consultant Psychiatrist, Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital, Mumbai, told IANS.
The recent death of the 17-year-old teenager, Satvik Pandey, who killed himself by jumping in front of a running train in Damoh in Madhya Pradesh, has been linked to the Blue Whale Challenge. According to some friends of Pandey, he was "quite absorbed in the Blue Whale game for the past few days". A CCTV camera installed at a house near the railway tracks recorded the episode.
"The terror of Blue Whale has been a wake-up call for all the parents and teachers. We as modern and educated adults need to monitor, educate and sensitise children to the judicious use of smartphones in order to avoid negative experiences," psychiatrist Mrinmay Das from Jaypee Hospital, Noida, told IANS.
So widespread has been the impact of the Blue Whale Challenge that Fortis Healthcare recently launched a 24x7 helpline to provide psychological support to teenagers getting trapped in the macabre online game. The helpline -- 8376804102 -- is available for anyone who is directly undergoing undue mental stress and anxiety as a participant in the challenge.
This deadly game operates on the basis of a one-on-one interaction between the curator and the player with the use of certain 'code' hashtags to find each other.
"Also, the use of smartphones distracts children not only from studies but also from extra-curricular activities such as sports, cultural activities," Kukreja said.
"It eats into the normal social interaction that young children should have and limits their social and emotional development," she added.
The other cons of mobile phones being used by schoolchildren may also lead to problems such as lower academic performance, fear of missing out, weak eyesight, disturbed sleep cycle, headaches and fatigue.
Taking note of the ill effects of smartphone use, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) in August issued an 18-point guideline for the safe and effective use of the internet and digital technologies in schools and school buses.
Schools need to promote a safe and secure educational environment for effective teaching and learning and to discourage students from actions detrimental to themselves, their peers and the value system, the CBSE stated.
"Not only Blue Whale Challenge but numerous other internet and mobile phone games develop a sense of fierce competition, frustration and addiction among school children," psychologist Bhavna Barmi of Fortis ESCORTS Heart Institute in New Delhi pointed out.
Barmi even advocated banning mobile phone use by schoolgoing children. Such a measure, according to her, would help them better concentrate on academics, develop self-control and intrinsic will power.
"It will foster better interpersonal development among students and will act as a preventive measure against full-blown Internet or smartphone addiction," Barmi added.
It is important for parents to place themselves in the shoes of their children to understand their perspective better, and after forming the appropriate rapport, engage in effective guidance and vigilance about the usage of mobile phones.
Those parents who feel that they may need mobile phones to contact their children during emergencies, should keep in mind that the school authorities generally provide the contact services in case of any emergency or absence from the school.
"Supporting them by talking to them, spending more time with them, making them understand the pros and cons can help kids to develop a better understanding about smartphone usage," psychiatrist Manish Jain of BLK Super Speciality Hospital in New Delhi said.