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The smartphone life: Screen addiction in kids becoming the new pandemic

By The Assam Tribune
The smartphone life: Screen addiction in kids becoming the new pandemic

Representational Image 

Guwahati, May 19: Activities done in front of a screen, such as watching TV, working on a computer, or playing video games is now a part of our daily lives. While it is now impossible to imagine our daily lives without these gadgets, the number of hours spent viewing the screen has steadily become a cause of concern. What is further distressing is the fact that infants and children are now being exposed to the screen. The growing dependence of children on the screen will gradually lead to alarming health consequences. It will have an impact on their physical and mental well-being.

Impact on infants and pre-schoolers

Studies reveal that children who spend more than 7 hours a day on digital screens, experienced thinning of the brain’s cortex, the region related to critical thinking and reasoning.

Physical, cognitive, and emotional development takes place rapidly for children under 3. Young children learn by exploring their environment and watching the adults in their lives, often also imitating them.

Children have easy access to screens now more than ever, consequently resulting in them having excessive screen time. It can get difficult to engage young children in non-electronic activities, such as playing with toys to foster their imagination, exploring outdoor activities, and playing with other children and developing appropriate social skills; if their time is spent on these highly engaging digital candies.

Excess screen time inhibits a child’s ability to observe and experience the everyday activities that help them learn about the world around them. They develop a restricted “tunnel vision”. It also impedes their ability to learn new things, their interaction with others, and how language develops, which can have a negative impact on their overall development.

According to studies, children learn language best when engaging and interacting with adults who talk and play with them; whereas, children who watch a lot of TV during their early school years perform less well on reading tests, and may show deficit in attention.

Data from a landmark National Institute of Health (NIH) study that began in 2018 indicates that children who spent more than 2 hours a day on screen time activities scored lower on language and thinking tests. Reciprocal dialogue is important for language development and social interaction. Passive listening to a screen does not contribute to it.

Efforts must be made at an early age, given that children’s brains are “elastic” and quickly adapt to changing circumstances. Parents could set limits on screen time, prioritise outdoor activities, and give rewards for decreasing screen time.

Impact on young children and adolescents

Although the lockdown was imposed to contain the spread of Covid 19, the subsequent social isolation resulted in the usage of more electronic devices. A sedentary lifestyle had affected young and old alike. While top health bodies like the WHO recommended screen time of 60 minutes daily or 420 minutes weekly, about 61 per cent of Indian children spend more than the recommended limit.

Lockdowns as a result of the pandemic led to schools closing down. Classes shifted online, a shift towards virtual learning took place, and suddenly electronic devices became a necessity for day-to-day school and social activities for children. Apart from this factor, an easy access of mobile phone and the internet has led Indian children to become the new consumer group of mobile phones. This easily makes India the largest mobile phone user in Asia.

The digital stimulation amongst children can have adverse consequences, coupled with unhealthy lifestyles. This may include physical inactivity, eating disorders, night-time snacking behaviour, and sleep problems amongst several others. Further, parents are of the opinion that an excess of media exposure affected behaviour, social interaction, academic performance, and food habits of children.

The consequences may sometimes be adverse. It can also lead to violence, risk-taking behaviour, stunts or challenges that may inspire unsafe behaviour, watching sexual content and negative stereotypes, and being susceptible to substance abuse, cyber bullies, and predators.

Health intervention must begin at an early age. Children must be taught to convert their emotions to goals and practice quitting screen time. Mobilising support from parents, friends, family, and others can benefit them.

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