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MN Expert Echoes Concerns about Tech Addiction

One symptom of an online gaming disorder is when a person continues to play despite negative consequences in their family, school or social life. (Adobe Stock)
One symptom of an online gaming disorder is when a person continues to play despite negative consequences in their family, school or social life. (Adobe Stock)
November 20, 2019

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Technology addiction was the focus when a host of experts gathered this month at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark, N.J., for the annual Urban Mental Health Conference. Panelists agreed that tech addiction is an emerging front in the treatment world, and a Minnesota provider agrees.

Psychiatrist Dr. Shalene Kennedy, who operates a behavioral treatment center in the Twin Cities area, said she primarily works with teens and families. About a decade ago, Kennedy said, her office started to see more patients exhibiting behaviors she feels are brought on by excessive or unhealthy tech use.

"As we would look for the underlying cause to some of those problems with families," she said, "we've noticed that technology is playing a larger and larger role."

The World Health Organization voted in May to include "gaming disorder" as a behavioral addiction, when people can't curb their online gaming and neglect other parts of their lives as a result. However, any form of tech addiction still isn't recognized as a disorder in the official psychiatric guidebook used by providers in the United States.

While there may be some in her field who are reluctant to include technology as a formal addiction officially, Kennedy said finding common ground can help those on the front line deal with an evolving problem.

"We need to band together so that we can all put our heads together on what the best treatment would be for these kids and families and be able to make it a reasonable diagnosis," she said.

Some of the dissent in the medical community centers around whether too much technology use is a symptom of an underlying issue, not the cause of it. While medical experts debate the merits, Congress is taking a closer look. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., has proposed a bill that calls on social media companies to adopt practices that would help curb overuse of their platforms. The text of his bill is online at hawley.senate.gov.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN