By Victoria Ward | 4:29PM BST April 21, 2013
Children as young as four are becoming so addicted to smartphones and iPads that they require psychological treatment.
Experts have warned that parents who allow babies and toddlers to access tablet computers for several hours a day are in danger of causing “dangerous” long term effects.
The youngest known patient being treated in the UK is a four-year-old girl from the South East.
Her parents enrolled her for compulsive behaviour therapy after she became increasingly “distressed and inconsolable” when the iPad was taken away from her.
Her use of the device had escalated over the course of a year and she had become addicted to using it up for to four hours a day.
Dr Richard Graham, who launched the UK’s first technology addiction programme three years ago, said he believed there were many more addicts of her age.
“The child’s mother called me and described her symptoms,” he said.
“She told me she had developed an obsession with the device and would ask for it constantly. She was using it three to four hours every day and showed increased agitation if it was removed.”
Dr Graham said that young technology addicts experienced the same withdrawal symptoms as alcoholics or heroin addicts, when the devices were taken away.
He warned that the condition prevented young people from forming normal social relationships, leaving them drained by the constant interaction.
“Children have access to the internet almost from birth now,” he told the Sunday Mirror.
“They see their parents playing on their mobile devices and they want to play too. It’s difficult, because having a device can also be very useful in terms of having a reward, having a pacifier. But if you don’t get the balance right it can be very dangerous.
“They can’t cope and become addicted, reacting with tantrums and uncontrollable behaviour when they are taken away. Then as they grow older, the problem only gets worse. Even the most shy kids, when they hit their teens, suddenly want to become sociable and popular.”
It is feared that products such as baby-proof iPad covers and iPotties, which feature built-in iPad stands, only fuel the problem.
Parents who have found themselves unable to wean their children off computer games and mobile phones are paying up to £16,000 for a 28-day “digital detox” programme designed by Dr Graham at the Capio Nightingale Hospital in London.
Psychiatrists estimate that the number of people who have become digitally dependent has risen by 30 per cent over the past three years.
A survey last week revealed that more than half of parents allowed their babies to play with their phone or tablet device.
One in seven of more than 1,000 parents questioned by babies.co.ukwebsite admitted that they let them use the gadgets for four or more hours a day.
James Macfarlane, managing director of the website, said: “Given that babies between 3-12 months are awake for only around 10 hours per day this is a huge proportion of their waking day.
“Although 81 per cent of our users felt that children today spend too much time on smart devices, it hasn’t put most of them off using them to entertain their baby.”