“Addictiveness” of digital devices and applications? Impact on individuals and society – approaches and chances for regulation – BigStage 2021

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30 June 2021 | Start 11:30 CEST | Amphitheatre | Video recording
BigStage 2021 overview

Proposal: Debate about the addictiveness of digital devices and applications, and its impact on individuals and society is heated. Although there is no clear scientific consensus on the severity of the issue, policy-makers are likely to face mounting pressure from worried citizens. How should the issue be approached, what are the chances of regulating it and who has the responsibility for protecting users, especially children, from the potentially detrimental effects of exessive use of digital technology?

Session teaser

Discussion about the addictiveness of social media and games is raging wild. Many parents are frustrated and worried about their children’s abundant use of digital devices, often interpreting the child’s love in the gadgets as an indication of addiction. But what exactly do we know about the matter? In our presentation, we’ll add some extra resolution to the discussion, trying to make sense what’s going on in children’s and families’ lives in the ever more digitalising era. Yes, there are children – and adults – whose use of devices is problematic and may even meet the criteria of behavioural disorder, but how common is it, after all, and what else should we know about the seductive power of the devices?.

Session description

This session looks at the concept of digital addiction through critical lenses. What some parents and even professionals often see as an addictive relationship may actually be something else. To be able to promote digital well-being and prevent harm, we need to have a deeper understanding of children’s relationship with digital devices, applications and games.

Currently, we do not have a globally accepted definition digital addiction. We do have two sets of criteria for (Internet) Gaming Disorder, included in ICD-11 and DSM-5, but they deal specifically with gaming. They are, however, often and erroneously used as criteria for internet addiction. The criteria themselves are, too, far from being undisputed. What’s the role of comorbidity (mental health problems and gaming disorder appearing simutalneously), for example?

Moreover, the observed prevalence of Internet Gaming Addiction also varies a lot between different studies (more than two orders of magnitude between the lower and upper end estimates) that one can sincerely question the descriptive power of the such studies. There are, for sure, people suffering from compulsive overuse of devices and apps, but it’s reasonable to say the percentage is far from being double digits. We do know, however, that services and devices are built in a way that tries to make us spend as much as times as possible on them. Even little addiction, of course, is too much, especially when we talk about children.

We claim that we should have a more versatile way of looking at what digital devices are doing to us. Most of it is good but comes with a cost, and sometimes the cost is bigger than the actual benefit. We present a practical tool for assessing the impact digital devices have on different constituents of our well-being and also discuss the disturbances the devices create within families. Finally, we give some policy recommendations for helping our children build a more sustainable and healthy relationship, that supports their well-being to their devices.


Traditional presentation

Further reading

Links to further reading will be added shortly.


Mirja Hämäläinen, advisor, digital well-being, Save the Children Finland

Video record