• During lockdown there was an increase in gambling addictions among young people, “a very serious problem”, according to the experts.
  • Fundación MAPFRE and the University of Valencia are conducting the first test to quickly identify addiction from the age of 11.

Male teens, especially at the ages of 15 and 16, have a higher risk of developing an addiction to online gambling, an eminently male activity which is more addictive than traditional gambling and represents a health problem that has a serious impact on every stage of adolescence.

Some 18.3 percent of boys, compared to 2.2 of girls, engage in online gambling as a leisure activity and to establish social relationships. Those who are already addicted (1.22 percent) are aware that they need to stop gambling, but they also recognize that they need to gamble more and more to achieve the desired effects, resulting in financial losses. They also admit that on some occasions they have lied about their involvement with gambling and that they need other people to finance their addiction as the only way of settling the debts they have already incurred.

Boys also prefer videogames (17 percent as opposed to 2.2% of girls), especially in the 11-16 age group (23 percent), mainly because it allows them to show off their strategy skills as well as the “compete and win” factor. Those who choose this form of entertainment tend to go for role-plays in massively multiplayer online games, which is potentially more addictive than offline play. Videogames are promoted to children from an early age and take up a significant part of young children’s leisure time, probably to the detriment of other recreational activities necessary for their optimal development and maturity.

This has been revealed by the report entitled Early Detection and Prevention of Technology Addiction in Adolescents which was presented today by the University of Valencia and Fundación MAPFRE. The investigation enabled them to conduct the first test by Spanish researchers on the early detection and prevention of technology-based addictions related to videogames, smartphones, social media and gambling from the age of eleven.

This research, the result of a survey conducted during the months leading up to lockdown, involving a total of 2,808 students between the ages of 11 and 20, shows that the smartphone has become the main “object of desire” among Spanish teens, regardless of their age, gender or place of residence. Girls, in particular, show higher levels of addiction than boys (8.2 compared to 3.2 percent) and also exhibit a higher risk of dependency (24.7 compared to 12 percent), which may be due to the fact that the main function of the smartphone is instant communication at any time and from any location.

By ages, the young people with the highest dependence on smartphones are in the 18-20 age range, while those with the highest risk of addiction are in the 15-16 age group.

“Emotional” networks: girls need approval and “likes”

As with smartphones, girls also show higher levels of addiction and risk of dependence on social media than boys (8.9 and 25 percent compared to 4.2 and 13.1 percent respectively). Researchers believe that this is due to the fact that on social media girls exhibit “greater peer dependency” and “con­formity with the rules”; they seek “approval” and to be part of the virtual community.

The report reveals that the self-esteem of many girls depends on the number of “likes” they get or the acceptance comments of their peer group. WhatsApp is the main communication tool used by teens. By age group, those who are most dependent on social media are aged 15 and 16 which, according to experts, is consistent with the development stage in which they find themselves, characterized by “permanent connection with their peer group”, a factor that is “extremely important” for all of them.

TecnoTest: a pioneer in Spain

As a result of these data, the University of Valencia, in collaboration with Fundación MAPFRE, has created a pioneering test in Spain that allows the rapid assessment and detection of addiction to smartphones, social media, videogames and gambling in young people aged 11 to 20.

The TecnoTest, available free of charge at www.fundacionmapfre.org, poses 24 questions, 12 of which are key questions, which help to identify three levels of the use of technologies by young people: appropriate use, i.e. those who use technologies without exhibiting addictive criteria, which applies to most adolescents; those who display one or more criteria that indicate they may be at risk of addiction to some form of technology, in which case it is advisable that they adhere to certain guidelines for use to prevent future addiction with the help of a counselor or teacher; and finally those who are suspected of having an addiction problem, which means that not only do they use new technologies to excess but that it interferes with their personal development, in which case they need further in-depth evaluation by a specialist to help them regain control and reverse the situation.

The test, lasting 3-5 minutes, has been designed to help psychologists, doctors and teachers and sets out clear guidelines to help prevent addiction in each of the technologies mentioned as well as gambling.

Silencing smartphones and understanding the economic cost

“To avoid addiction to new technologies, it is crucial to consolidate a habit of use that gives you back control and stops friends and acquaintances from dictating how much time you spend on them and how you use them.” This is the opinion of Antonio Guzmán, the director of Health Promotion at Fundación MAPFRE, who believes it is essential to “learn to recognize” an addiction and “share it” with an adult to get immediate help. In this respect, he referred to young people who see videogames as “the most important thing in their lives”, and advises them to set a weekly schedule that allows them to plan their gaming time and to avoid playing with the goal of “escaping” from the problems besetting their lives, and not to abandon their responsibilities and previous interests.

The director of Health Promotion at Fundación MAPFRE also asserted that young people should set aside several times during the day to check their WhatsApp, that they should silence the notification alert at certain times (e.g. when studying, at family get-togethers, when attending concerts, among others), and that they should be aware of how much they are spending. To reduce the risk of addiction to social media, he also highlighted the importance of “strengthening friendships and putting aside the trivial motivation of enlarging your virtual social network; don’t use these media as a way of evading your problems, and try to update your status or change your profile photo just once a month.”

Some thoughts on Covid-19: the pros and cons of using ICT

“The need to use technologies for activities that before the Covid pandemic were done in a different way has meant that many young people not only use ICT even more than before but could also become much more dependent on them after the health crisis is over.” This is the belief of Mariano Chóliz and Marta Marcos, researchers at the Research Unit on Gambling and Other Technology Addictions of the University of Valencia and the creators of the TecnoTest. They also believe that “we will need to be vigilant to ensure that these new patterns of behavior do not generate or worsen technological addictions in teens”. For the time being, these experts believe that the lockdown may have encouraged more online gambling and hence there is an increased risk of addiction.

The full report and the TecnoTest are available free of charge at: www.fundacionmapfre.org