• 14 JUN 08
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    #902: Children, 12 and 13, treated for addiction to mobile phones

    From Yasmin Skelt, Mast Sanity (UK):

    To see this story with its related links on the guardian.co.uk site, go to http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jun/13/spain.mobilephones

    Children, 12 and 13, treated for addiction to mobile phones

    · They spent six hours a day on them, says psychiatrist
    · Spanish cases may be tip of iceberg, expert warns

    * Graham Keeley in Barcelona Jo Adetunji
    * The Guardian,
    * Friday June 13 2008
    * Article history

    Girl on mobile phone in Seville

    A girl peeks out of a tent as she speaks on her mobile phone at a fair in Seville. Photographer: Cristina Quicler/AFP/Getty Images

    Two Spanish children are being treated for addiction to mobile phones, in what is thought to be first case of its kind in the country. The children, 12 and 13, were admitted to a mental health clinic by their parents because they could not carry out normal activities without their phones.

    The children were failing at school and, behind their parents’ backs, were deceiving relatives to try to get money to pay for the phone cards. Both spent an average of six hours a day on the phone, talking, texting or playing video games.

    Dr Maite Utgès, director of the Child and Youth Mental Health Centre in Lleida, north-east Spain, where the children are being treated, said: “It is the first time we have used a specific treatment to cure a dependence on the mobile phone.

    “They both showed disturbed behaviour and this exhibited itself in failure at school. They both had serious difficulties leading normal lives.” She added: “When it reaches such a level of dependency it is not easy for children of this age to suddenly stop using the phone.”

    Before they started treatment both had their own phones for 18 months and were not controlled by their parents.

    “One paid for their phone by getting money from the grandmother and other family members, without explaining what they were going to do with it,” said Utgès.

    The children have been learning to live without their phones for the past three months, but Utgès, a child psychiatrist, said they might need at least a year of treatment to get them off the “drug”.

    Dr José Martìnez-Raga, an expert in addictions at a centre near Valencia, said the cases may be the “tip of the iceberg”.

    “The parents have been very brave in getting the children treated. Like video-game addiction and other substance addictions, it is what is called a silent disease, as no one says anything about the problem,” he said. “This could definitely be a danger in the future.”

    He said in cases like this children failed at school, were irritable, withdrawn and antisocial. “They only live for video games or, in this case, mobile phones. It also means they start hunting around for money, like drug addicts. They might steal or lie to pay for their addictions.”

    Fears of mobile phone “dependency” have emerged in several countries. Japan has warned parents to limit phone usage because of side effects in children who overuse them. At least two cases have been reported in Britain of young people obsessed by their phones who became depressed when incoming calls or messages dropped off.

    “I get about one or two calls a month from parents about this,” Mark Griffiths, a chartered psychologist at Nottingham Trent University, said. “A lot of modern things are not genuine addiction, it’s habitual behaviour. Not having access gives short-term withdrawal symptoms.”

    A study last year by the children’s ombudsman in Madrid found that 30% of children between the ages of 11 and 17 felt “extremely oppressed” when their phone was taken away from them. Another study by the Spanish Institute for National Statistics last year found that 65% of children between 10 and 15 had a mobile phone. In 2004 the figure was 45.7%.

    Utgès said parents should not allow their children to have mobile phones until they were at least 16.

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