Addiction to Technology - Symptoms and Treatment

The five signs your child is addicted to their iPad - and how to give them a 'digital detox'


One in three children are using tablets and phones before they can talk.

The rise in gadgets is being attributed to the rise in technology addiction.

Addiction in children can interfere with their sleeping patterns and eating.

Signs include withdrawal symptoms and a rise in devious behaviour.

Experts explain how to impose a 'digital detox' if a parent is concerned.

How addiction changes your brain

Tablets and phones have replaced the TV as a way of pacifying children and keeping them entertained - recent figures, for example, have revealed that one in three toddlers use a gadget before they can even talk.

Yet these devices could be having a significant impact of the mental health of young people.

London-based Consultant Adolescent Psychiatrist Dr Richard Graham and Clinical Psychologist Dr Jay Watts say that technology addiction can affect a child′s behaviour and sleeping patterns. Tech 1

In an interview with MailOnline, they highlighted the five signs to look out for if you think your child may be hooked.

They also stressed the importance of taking a ′digital detox′ to remedy their obsession.

′When people

feel an uncomfortable sense of withdrawal when not online, we know that the relationship with technology is not being managed properly,′ said Dr Graham from the Capio Nightingale Hospital, a mental health hospital based in central London.

Dr Watts added: ′Parents today often struggle with understanding how crucial social media is to children today; the modern day playground is virtual.′

′Yet when electronic devices start to have more influence over behaviour than anyone else or anything else, when children become very distressed when technology is removed from them, that is the moment when really you need to start changing things,′ continued Dr Graham.

For children who are addicted to technology, it is primarily about the way they feel when using it that is the issue, they explained.

′Children who are not addicted may get a buzz from a range of activities not just technology.

′If a child is displaying signs of severe distress and agitation when separated from technology, then we know there is an unhealthy dependence.′

In effect, it is giving them a ′hit′, similar to a drug user.

This unhealthy dependence doesn′t just mean the child becomes agitated when told they can′t use technology, Dr Graham also explains that the addiction may manifest itself in other behaviours.

Technology addiction can impact a child′s sleep, interfere with meal times and eating habits and make children act up during play time.

Dr Graham continued that addicted children may become secretive and defensive about their gadgets and their gadget use, as well as argue with parents more often.

Additionally, children addicted to technology may also avoid or ignore real-life activities and refuse to go to places where their gadgets can′t be used, such as the cinema.

Dr Watts said: It′s pretty much guaranteed parents will think their child is spending too much time online or on smartphones. The key thing is to talk to other parents at the school gates, or similar, to find out if a child is more preoccupied than their mates.

′If there is a real difference, you need to speak to your child not just about cybersafety, but about what is so preoccupying, what might be addictive within it, and what this addiction might help them avoid in the real world′

′It is important to restrict the time children spend using technology to help prevent forming an unhealthy dependence,′ continued Dr Graham.

′Techniques include ensuring prolonged periods where children are focused on the ′real world′ and play time with other children.

′Establishing a maximum daily time allowance can be a good place to start. It is also about making sure adults leave their phones off or on silent during meal times and when with friends and family as children learn behaviour from their parents.

"It is especially important for sleep hygiene that iPads and iPhones are not used before bed time and that they are kept in a different room overnight to stop children from using the devices straight before, during and after sleep.′

If a parent is concerned that their child is addicted, or is on the road to addiction, Dr Graham recommends a specific course of treatment.

′We recommend 72 hours for a digital detox. Initially they will show distress and signs of withdrawal, much like any addict would feel.

′The challenge starts when we reintroduce technology back into their lives in a controlled manner, they need a balance of activities to help children including an increase of physical activity.′

The Capio Nightingale Hospital additionally has an online test that anyone can take that assesses the extent of a person′s relationship with technology.

Dr Graham advises taking this test as an important first step in ascertaining whether technology use is abnormal or problematic.

Although the test is primarily aimed at adults, Dr Graham adds it might help parents who are concerned about their children′s behaviour.



One sign a child may have an issue with technology is when a parent is trying to get the child to do something else that is fun - such as going to the cinema or take part in an outdoor activity - and the child is reluctant to do so.

Dr Graham explained that if this reluctance increases and ′it becomes harder and harder to get them to do anything other than engaging with technology′, they may be showing signs of addiction.

′A bit of groaning at having to do anything else is common,′ added Dr Watts. ′But if your child has difficulty paying attention it′s worth finding out what is going on, and whether this is a problem at school too.′


If children talk about when they are next going online, or a parent suspects they are thinking about their next technology fix, they may have an issue.

According to Dr Graham: ′Look for signs of them constantly wanting to get back to their devices. For example, if they keep playing and checking their phone wanting to switch it back on.′

Signs a child might have a technology addiction


Another sign to look for is if the amount of time they spend using devices increases.

Equally, if they ′become very sensitive when any concern is expressed about their technology usage to the point it can easily escalate into an argument.′ Tech 2

Some children may tell the adult they don′t understand because they didn′t have devices when they were growing up.

According to Dr Watts: ′It′s difficult for anyone born before 1980 to realise how central social media is to children′s lives nowadays.

′Adults tend to have Enid Blyton fantasies of how kids should spend their childhood.

′There is going to be a generational difference between you and your kids, but agree some kind of rules on what is allowed, for example "No smartphones at meals".′


If a child appears tense or upset when they can′t get online, and this feeling noticeably goes away when they are given their devices, they may have a problem said Dr Graham.

′They may become distressed or angry by small things and when they are back online become calmer′ and advises parents to check for signs of anxiety, agitation and irritability.

Dr Watts added: ′A little agitation at not being able to be online with one′s friends is pretty normal, but if a child continuously can′t get over this, its time to start a conversation.′


This includes concealing the extent to which they use their devices, hiding them or using them in bed without your knowledge.

Dr Graham said children with potential addiction ′will try to do as much as they can to minimise the extent to which they are asked about their technology use′ by keeping it a secret.

Dr Watts added it′s normal for children to want to have some space and secrets but advises parents to ′ask friends how much time their similarly-aged kids are spending online, or check forums.′


If a parent is concerned their child is addicted, or is on the road to addiction, Dr Graham recommends a ′72 hours for a digital detox.

Initially they will show distress and signs of withdrawal, much like any addict would feel.

How parents handle this depends on the child and how they are reacting and Dr Watts explained: ′You know your child so if something feels really wrong, trust your instincts and seek help.′

As a rule, pleas for technology should be ignored, yet parents can also try to distract the child with other activities if it get too much.

′The challenge starts when we reintroduce technology back into their lives in a controlled manner, they need a balance of activities to help children including an increase of physical activity,′ continued Dr Graham.

′It is important to restrict the time children spend using technology to help prevent forming an unhealthy dependence,′ said Dr Graham.

′Techniques include ensuring prolonged periods where children are focused on the ′real world′ and play time with other children.′

Dr Watts told the MailOnline this method may not be appropriate for teenagers, however, due to social pressures.

′If a parent is really worried their child is getting addicted, and the time spent on smartphones is a lot more than their peers, parents should try to set down some ′compromise agreements′, meaning families still spend time together.

′Perhaps there are no smartphones at meals, and the family have half a day together cyber-free over the weekend′, said Dr Watts.

She continued ′some adolescent groaning about this is par for the course′ but if a child is really locked into the screen, parents should talk to their GP, teacher or call Parentline on 0808 800 2222.

Technology Addiction

The benefits of the technologies we all use on a daily basis are clear to see. However, in a short period of time the world we all inhabit has drastically changed and we have had little time to adapt. Unfortunately unhealthy relationships with technology such as phones, computers and games can cause destructive consequences; physically and psychologically. Lives can be impaired by extensive and unregulated time online, on-screen or in-game′.

In response to this we have launched the first Technology Addiction Service - the underlying principles being to increase off-screen social activities and develop strategies to deal with online problems, especially cyber-bullying.

Our treatment approach for Technology Addiction

Our approach to treating Technology Addiction combines individual programmes with therapies that are based on current clinical evidence. The three core elements are:

Interpersonal Therapy giving the emphasis on Interpersonal Sensitivity and how this relates to discomfort in face-to-face time with others

Tech. Hygiene in which the meaning of your relationship to technology is explored whether a phone, a game or social media platform such as Facebook. This is supported by other therapies including CBT, Relaxation and Sleep Therapy which work on managing the energy or level of arousal that follows prolonged gaming and focuses on how to ′Switch Off and Disconnect′.

Life Skills and Health to look after the body and feel good within it. Prolonged periods of Technology Addiction compromise confidence in facing the demands of life in the external world but also physically where individuals may suffer poor nutrition and a lack of physical activity.

Treatment tailored to you

Treatments here at Capio Nightingale Hospital London can be as an outpatient, day patient or inpatient. We have the expertise to approach the support and treatment we offer in a personal and flexible way to benefit you the most in your recovery.

Technology Addiction Specialists

Capio Nightingale Hospital London has a number of Consultant Psychiatrists and Therapists that can help you through your technology addiction. It is vital you find a technology addiction specialist that you can trust and work with on your recovery. If you cannot find the information you need on specialists and treatment programmes we would welcome your call so you feel secure in the decisions you make.

Please contact us confidentially on 020 7535 7700 24 hours a day.