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Adolescents and the use of new technologies

The arrival of new technologies has changed our lives: paying a bill on your mobile, booking a trip on the web, online banking etc. Bit by bit, we have been incorporating these actions into our daily lives to make them easier. But what happens when use becomes abuse and possible addiction?

For the first time in 2018 the Ministry of Health included addiction to new technologies in the National Addiction Plan. The figures are worrying, especially for the youngest group: 18% of adolescents between the ages of 14 and 18 abuse new technologies.

Dr Marina Díaz Marsá, from Blue Healthcare’s Mind Area, sets out some of the typical symptoms of digital addiction: “There is a sense of loss of control, as the addicted person prioritises a game or using the Internet and social networks over their basic daily responsibilities. Despite the consequences of abandoning responsibilities, they continue with addictive behaviour.”

However, Dr Díaz Marsá insists that a distinction must be made between abusive and irresponsible use of new technologies and addictive behaviour.  There are extremes, which can even require being admitted to a health centre. “You have to analyse each case, an addiction is a very serious thing, not everyone who abuses technology is addicted.”

 “Parents have to set limits and exercise some control over how long their children spend online. They also have to keep a close eye on any situation that may be a symptom of addiction,” adds the doctor.

Specifically, mobiles are part of young people’s daily lives from the start of adolescence; they are a platform that boys and girls use for almost everything. However, addictions usually come from a type of game or app that reinforces repetitive behaviour: games based on competing, those that send messages to encourage you to keep playing, etc. Studies have proven that these games and apps activate the reward and reinforcement circuits in the brain, releasing a dopamine hit, which makes you want to keep repeating the activity.

Conclusive studies on the relationship between addiction to new technologies and addiction to other substances have not yet been carried out. However, an association has been found between the problematic use of video games and increased consumption of alcohol, nicotine and cannabis among young people and adolescents.

Although it’s not an addiction as such, it relates the abusive use of new technologies and mobile phones to the existence of other problems like anxiety disorders, impulsivity, depression, difficulties tolerating frustration, irritability, as well as young hyperactivity which has been seen in young people.

Dr. Díaz Marsá explains that “we must watch out for significant changes in our children’s mood, if they are excessively irritable, if we see poor performance at school, if they lie to us about the time they spend online, if they don’t sleep because they are playing or if they stop going out with their friends or doing activities they used to enjoy.”

Regarding personality traits, studies indicate some association between addiction to new technologies and avoidant and antisocial traits: “The young person isolates themselves in a parallel world in which they feel safe and gains self-esteem under a false profile.”

Addiction to new technologies is a very new phenomenon. As we await further studies and trials, what is clear is that it is a growing problem.

While undoubtedly new technologies have been created to make our daily lives easier, it is also true that abusing them can have very negative effects on our lives and our behaviour.

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