Anecdotal evidence suggest that cases of mobile device addictions have more than doubled in the past three years

A five-year-old boy in Singapore, was ordered to undergo a digital detox as part of his treatment, after his parents and counselling professionals felt the child showed symptoms of mobile phone addiction.

Tommy’s (not his real name) parents had used games on the smartphone to pacify him when he had his meals. Soon, however, the young child had become so addicted to smartphones that he had flung the phones across the room and smashed it in a rage, on three separate occasions when his parents told him to stop using the digital device.

Hoping to wean their son off his mobile phone addiction, the child’s parents took him to see a counsellor at Touch Cyber Wellness – an organisation that has been running cyber wellness education and counselling programmes for over 15 years.

Tommy was the youngest smartphone addict Mr Chong Ee Jay, a counsellor and manager at Touch Family Services, has treated. Mr Chong recommended that Tommy undergo a digital detox, where he was not allowed to use smartphones for two months. The boy was told to interact with his siblings and go outdoors.

Mr Chong said that the digital detox caused escalated tensions between Tommy and his parents for the first two weeks before the boy’s temper tantrums subsided by the end of the first month. Soon, Tommy began to enjoy family time with his siblings and the family last reported that they are doing well.

Mr Chong told The New Paper that cases of excessive use of mobile devices have more than doubled in three years and that Touch Cyber Wellness (a non-profit agency based in Singapore which advocates cyber wellness and new media literacy for children, teenagers, parents and educator) handled 34 cases in 2015, 49 in 2016, and 76 in 2017.

More parents are calling the centre’s helplines seeking advice and the organisation is said to receive about eight to 10 calls a week from parents concerned about their children’s excessive use of mobile devices and social media.

Touch Cyber Wellness senior coach Michelle Lee told the publication: “As more young people have a phone, and at increasingly younger ages, they become more susceptible to phone addiction because they tend to lack self-regulation and consequential thinking.”

Mr Chong added: “Increasingly, smartphone addiction is intertwined with behavioural issues. This includes anti-social behaviour and ignoring of parents, so that they can have solo device time.”

A study of 38,000 children in 29 countries by global digital literacy group DQ Institute and Singtel found that Singapore children between the ages of eight and 12 spend 35 hours online for entertainment, compared to the global average of 32 hours.

The study found that the majority of children (54 per cent) are exposed to cyber risks, like cyber bullying, video game addiction, offline meeting and online sexual behaviour.

Children who own mobile phones are also more susceptible to online vulnerabilities, as the study found they spend 15 more hours a week online than children without their own mobile phone, and that a hefty 70 per cent of children who own mobile phones are exposed to cyber risk.

Smartphone addiction, however, is not officially recognised as a clinical disorder. Ms Jenny Liew, a counsellor at the National Addictions Management Service (Nams) in the Institute of Mental Health, told the New Paper:

“No one has actually sought help for smartphone addiction at Nams thus far. Right now, it is more of a cultural and social phenomenon than a clinical disorder, and almost everyone is glued to their smartphones these days.”

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