Sixteen-year-old Ambika (name changed) had always been a bright student. That changed when she joined Facebook. Soon, her routine visits to the social networking web site turned into an obsession. She would spend hours on the site, often well into the night, depriving herself of food and sleep.

Alarmed, her parents decided to consult a psychiatrist.

“She was hooked to her ‘wall’,” said Naresh Vadlamani, senior consultant psychiatrist at CARE Hospitals, speaking to Business Line. “She would post a comment or a photo and keep watch. If someone ‘likes’ it, she is elated, else, she is crestfallen.”

Vadlamani says it is like walking along a road and passing people. “You like people who wave at you when you greet them. If they don’t, you feel slighted. It is the same on Facebook. Frustration levels go up when people don’t comment on or like your post,” he said.

Ambika’s is not an isolated case. Many engineering and high-school students are also turning up at psychiatrists’ clinics for counselling.

Parents need to watch for certain signs, say doctors. These include children getting irritated when there is no network, sleep deprivation, poor exam scores and loss of concentration.

“Try to limit screen hours (including TV, tablets, smartphones and computers) to one-and-a-half hours a day. Anything more could be trouble,” says Dr Minhaj Nasirbadi, a psychiatrist with the Apollo group.

Corporate response

Companies, facing a loss of productivity, have either restricted usage or imposed a blanket ban on accessing social networking sites at the workplace.

Many have also introduced a social networking usage policy.

“Employees don’t have access to social media through the office network for security reasons,” said a Capgemini spokesperson.

At Tech Mahindra, staff can access Twitter. Other social sites can be accessed through kiosks and wi-fi spots.

(This article was published on August 28, 2013)
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