KUALA LUMPUR, June 24 — A global study recently revealed that Malaysians spend almost half of their waking hours on electronic devices.

The 2024 Electronics Hub report ranked the screen time of Malaysians as the second-highest in Asia and the eighth-highest in the world.

The report does not come as a surprise.

Back in 2018, Limelight Networks Inc ranked Malaysians as the population most addicted to their digital devices, with 69 per cent of Malaysians not willing to stop using their mobile phones even for one day.

However, Solace Asia founder and chief executive officer Adjunct Professor Dr Prem Kumar Shanmugam said electronic device addiction is now becoming prevalent among young children.

“Mobile phones have unfortunately become the most convenient device to parent a child.

“Each time you give a mobile phone to a tantrum-throwing child, you are conditioning the child to respond to stimuli.

“Over time, the child will purposely throw tantrums just to get the phone. This sets off a vicious cycle of addiction,” he said.

Dr Prem said addictions consist of six components, which are salience (when the addiction becomes the single most important thing to the addict), mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, conflicts and finally relapse.

The human brain, he said, has an average attention span of around 40 minutes but when it gets overstimulated, the individual enjoys a dopamine rush.

Dopamine is a feel-good neurotransmitter produced by the brain that allows us to feel pleasure.

“After some time, the body develops greater tolerance (resistance) to dopamine.

“When electronic gadgets cannot provide the same stimulation anymore, the individual turns to substance abuse to satisfy their dopamine cravings,” he said.

Dr Prem said social media platforms also exploit dopamine rush to keep users glued to their sites.

“Social networking sites notify you each time your post gets a like to trigger a dopamine hit. The more likes you see, the more you want it.

“It is similar to gambling addiction, where you feel compelled to chase your losses and get locked in an addiction loop.

“This reward cycle makes young children and adolescents get addicted easily because their brains are still maturing,” he said.

Dr Prem also noted a worrying trend of cases, where adolescents struggling with digital device addiction exhibit symptoms that mimic psychiatric disorders.

According to Dr Prem, overstimulation of the brain triggers a dopamine rush. — Picture courtesy of Solace Asia
According to Dr Prem, overstimulation of the brain triggers a dopamine rush. — Picture courtesy of Solace Asia

Time to talk again

“We don’t talk to children; devices are talking to them,” Dr Prem said, urging parents to start talking to their kids to break their electronic device addiction.

“Keeping mobile phones off the dining table during meals is a great start.

“There should be no exception for the parents or other adults because children learn best from modelling those around them.

“Don’t ignore the warning signs if your child is suddenly isolating or becoming highly introverted,” he said.

Parents, he said, should start regulating the screen time as soon as their children start using digital gadgets and limit the usage time to about 40 to 45 minutes per day.

More importantly, Dr Prem warned parents not to let electronic devices babysit their kids.

“It scares me to see parents fitting iPad in baby strollers to keep their toddlers quiet.

“That’s no different than snorting drugs in front of the child every day. What do you think will happen over time?”