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Monday, January 24, 2022

Qatar experts take first steps to help teens with internet addiction


Excessive internet usage has proven to be harmful and can possibly lead to physical and mental health problems. 

Qatar has conducted its first-of-its-kind research to explore the results of excessive use of digital devices among adolescents in the Gulf nation.

Among the various factors in the report are the effects of the internet on the health and education of teenagers as well as their relationships with their families. These were specifically chosen to better understand digital addiction in the country and build specialised services for treatment that can help thousands of teens across the nation.

Digital addiction is the harmful dependence on digital media and devices such as smartphones, video games, and computers. It includes three types: phone addiction, internet addiction and social media addiction.
Adolescents aged 15-16 years, especially male adolescents, are the most prone to the development of the condition globally, according to research. Meanwhile, adolescents aged 11-12 years show the lowest level of Internet addiction.
Excessive internet usage has shown to be harmful as it creates a heightened level of psychological activity that results in little sleep, failure to eat for long periods, and limited physical movement. This can possibly lead to experiencing physical and mental health problems such as depression, OCD, low family relationships and even anxiety.
The concerning results have prompted experts in Qatar to take major steps in identifying the effects of digital addiction on teenagers in a bid to find a potential way to treat it.
This has already been launched through a three-part research conducted by the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH), Doha International Families Institute (DIFI) and Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) and WISE – all members of Qatar Foundation (QF).

As part of the research, thousands of parents were surveyed to take on their perspective after observing their children’s behavior throughout the years.

The results show that parents believe children suffer from “physical and mental health issues such as insomnia, obesity, stress and depression as a result of overusing digital devices.”

The survey also suggested extensive use of digital devices causes children to have lower academic performance, become socially shy, and engage in frequent conflicts with family members.

To ensure anonymity and privacy, respondents were informed of the voluntary study’s purpose at the time of data collection and a written informed consent form was provided to all those taking part, Maha El Akoum, Head of Content at World Innovation Summit for Health [WISH], confirmed to Doha News.

All obtained information was kept confidential, and the results was summarised and presented in an aggregated and anonymous form.

“So far, our initial results indicated that the higher internet addiction score in parents, the higher they see it in their children. The time of adolescents on technology as reported by parents was a predictor of the adolescents’ addiction score but not as strong as we expected,” the health expert added.

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The results are just one segment of the of the three-part study, which included surveying parents on their assessment of their adolescent children’s digital device use.

“The first part of our study took parents’ perspective on the subject. The results show that excessive use of technology is a widespread issue in Qatar among adolescents,” WISH Research Manager, Dr. Sana Al Harahsheh said.

“We also found that parents need help addressing the issue but over 98% of them are unaware of the services currently available in Qatar while some of them hesitate to seek help due to the social stigma attached to seeking mental health treatment.”

The second part of the study will include surveying adolescents, while the third will gather data from treatment providers in Qatar to understand their experiences with patients and identify gaps in services.

It aims to understand the perceptions and experiences of excessive use of digital technologies of families in Qatar, and attempts to define this problem and identify its aspects.

Experts also aim to identify the factors that contribute to excessive use of digital technologies among children and parents to understand its impact on their mental health.

“One of the most important results from this study was the amount of time that children spend using digital devices: more than four to five hours a day. Parents have reported that the children usually suffer from lack of sleep, lack of concentration and a general disinterest in family gatherings,” Dr. Azza Abdelmoneium, Director of Research Department, DIFI, added.

Although Qatar offers several assistive services including behavioural, mental, and social initiatives, the country has no specialised programme to treat digital addiction just yet, which can carry various psychological risks.

However, experts are looking into using the key findings of the full study to collaborate with stakeholders to develop specialised treatment programmes in Qatar and to advise on national policies.

The full study is expected to be completed in September 2022 and will also include policy recommendations informed by the findings, a statement said.

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