17 April 2019

Nigeria: 'Addictive' Use of Smartphones, Internet Worries Health Officials

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Experts have raised alarm over the adverse health impacts of the growing addictive use of smartphones and the internet among Nigerian youth.

They linked what they called obsessive use of the technology to depression disorders and several other mental health issues.

The experts, who spoke at the maiden edition of the National Conference on Adolescent Health and Development in Nigeria, called on parents, schools, and government to monitor early use of internet among teens.

Organised by the Society for Adolescent and Young People's Health in Nigeria (SAYPHIN), the three-day conference was held April 10 to 13 at the Subomi Balogun Conference Centre of the University of Ibadan.

During a sub-session on mental health among adolescents on the final day of the event, a psychiatrist, Segun Mathew, explained some of the dangers in obsessive use of the internet.

He said several studies have linked addictive use of the internet to be harmful to the mind.

Teens are extremely susceptible to developing cell phone addiction, a condition Mr Mathew said will have a damaging effect on their brain development.

"The human brain is not fully developed until about 25 years of age. Adolescents who become dependent on their smartphones could experience negative alterations in brain development," he explained.

"Adolescents increasingly use the internet for communication, entertainment and other needs in varying degrees. Due to the vulnerability of their age, they are more prone to internet addiction.

"Events during the period of adolescent greatly influence a persons' development, attitudes and behaviour in later life.

"Teens are receptive and can be drawn to the internet as a form of release which most likely leads to addiction."

The health worker said excessive use of the internet has been linked to depression and several other mental health issues by several studies.

"This is why it's very important that parents, schools and guardians need to monitor how teens make use of the internet."

Keliwe Aderomu, health education and recreational teacher at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, shared his experience on how he was addicted to smoking at the age of 13 due to peer pressure.

He said apart from obsessive use of the internet, teens are more susceptible to other forms of addiction due to peer pressure and other socio-cultural issues.

Mr Aderomu advised guardians to keep close tabs on their teen wards so as to know when they fall into one form of addiction or the other.

"Adolescent age is the most critical stage that shapes our lives and future."

The theme of the conference is: "Leaving No Young Person Behind: Advancing Adolescent Health in Nigeria in the SDG Era."

At the opening ceremony of the event, the minister of health, Isaac Adewole, who was represented by Victor Adetiloye, the Chief Medical Director of the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital (OAUTH), Ile-Ife said the theme of the conference was well conceived with a right step towards securing the future of the nation.

Adesegun Fatusi, the national president of SAYPHIN, said the conference was aimed at charting a way forward for adolescent health and development in Nigeria.

Mr Fatusi, a professor of medicine at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, expressed the hope that a road map for advancing adolescent health would be achieved at the end of the conference.

"Adolescents, who are young people in the society, suffer the greater burden of HIV infection, drug abuse and sexual harassment in the country.

"We are not happy with these developments and feel there is a need to come together toward addressing the issues.

"This conference is one of the major efforts of stakeholders in advancing adolescent health and development," he said.

Omolaso Omosehin, the head of Lagos Liaison Office of United Nations Fund for Population (UNFPA), expressed optimism that the conference will become an annual event were health issues of Nigerian teens is brought to the fore.

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