Doing everything online – mental wellbeing vs digital addiction effects on human interaction

29 Jun 2021 14:30h - 15:30h

Event report

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a tremendous impact on all aspects of society, including education, digital content consumption, and mental health. Around the globe, it has sharply increased the time spent online. During the lockdown, students of all ages and levels have been forced to shift to remote learning. The lockdown has also largely been associated with an increased supply of misinformation, inappropriate content, and cyber risks. These developments have revitalised and brought new context to the discussions on the so-called ‘cyber addiction’ problem, also known as ‘problematic’ or ‘excessive’ use of the internet.

This workshop aimed to identify the best approaches to managing internet traffic consumption in children who spend all day between a computer display and a smartphone screen. Further, the workshop offered a discussion on effective and safe e-learning practices in the face of children’s increasing screen time.

What are the main concerns over the impact of digital technologies on the adolescent psyche?

While many still lack access to the internet or the skills to use ICT tools, those who have access, often suffer from mental well-being problems due to constant comparison with others, unrealistic fears concerning information technology threats, a phenomenon known as ‘cyber-paranoia’, and other issues of mental well-being. The problematic use of the internet can be treated with robust clinical care. Among children, changes in sleep, school performance, and social interactions can be observed due to increased use of the internet.

Thus, on the one hand, it is necessary to ensure equal access to the internet for all, closing the gender and development digital gaps and building infrastructures in remote areas, and, on the other hand, it is necessary to ensure efficient e-learning strategies, peer-to-peer collaboration, enhanced learning communities, and better practices in terms of using digital tools.

More research on digital addiction is needed. Children are often blamed for being addicted to the use of the internet, but such an attitude is neither healthy nor helpful.

The ever-increasing use of the internet is a normality and should not be viewed in the light of negative effects, but we should focus on mitigating harm and promoting healthier and more productive ways of using the internet, noted Ms Jill R. Kavanaugh (Knowledge Program Librarian, Digital Wellness Lab; Coordinator, Clinic for Interactive Media and Internet Disorders (CIMAID)).

A holistic approach to ensure children’s mental wellbeing

The involvement of parents in a child’s learning experience, even as a positive observer, can enhance the learning outcomes for children and can enable them to observe changes in behaviour due to excessive use of the internet.

Research skills of teachers and educators can be enhanced through professional development programmes and training to ensure that they can contribute to the observation of the behaviour of children in the digital environment, said Mr Peter Safronov (Educational Methods Coordinator at Letovo School, Educational Programs Historian, Author of the Udalenka (remote education) Podcast, Professor at Free Moscow University).

Moreover, the education systems can be reformed to accommodate the changes brought by increased internet use and the problems associated with excessive internet use. In this regard, the involvement of civil society can be key in promoting the better use of the internet in the education system, said Mr Artur Modlinski (Researcher on the Influence of AI on Human Resource Management, European Foundation for Human Development (EuroFRC), Center for Artificial Intelligence and Cybercommunication Research (CAICR), Professor at the University of Lodz).

A holistic approach, involving business, governments, civil society, and the education system is needed to ensure that online products and platforms are designed and used in a way that optimises health and mental well-being. Further, awareness-raising, enhanced media literacy, and its integration in school systems can help achieve better use of technologies, said Ms Kristelle Lavallee (Senior Content Strategist, Digital Wellness Lab (DWL), Boston Children’s Hospital, Child Development Expert, Mediatrics Inc., Co-Author of the Ask the Mediatrician Podcast).