Excessive screen time is the buzzing concern amongst children in today’s times. Screens have become a very essential part of our lives. First, we must understand what is meant by screen time? Screen time is the total time spent per day in viewing screens such as mobile phone, TV, computer, tablet, or any hand-held or a visual device. Just like the balanced food that we consume, screens need to be properly chosen and to be used in the right quantity and at the right time. Screen time can be healthy or unhealthy based on the way we use it. Time spent on the screen for educational, prosocial activities such as schoolwork, interacting with friends and relatives is healthy way, while watching inappropriate TC show, visiting unsafe websites, playing inappropriate violent video games are some examples of unhealthy screen time.
According to the Screen time guidelines by Indian academy of Pediatrics, children below the age of 2 years should not be exposed to any type of screen. For children between the age of 2 and 5 years it should not exceed 1 hour; For older children and adolescents, it is important to balance screen time with other activities like physical activity, adequate sleep, time for schoolwork, meals, hobbies, and family time that are required for overall development.
Prolonged screen watching can impact the health of an individual in various ways:
It can impact the mental health of children in all age groups from infants to adolescents. It can lead to delayed speech, hyperactivity, aggression, violence, desire for instant gratification, fear of missing out, fear of being left out, cyberbullying, distorted perception of sex by exposure to pornography, cyberbullying, drug use, self-harm, anxiety, and depression. Not only does the excessive screen exposure impact the mental health but it indirectly also impacts the physical wellbeing. Some of the ill effects on physical effects observed are obesity, sedentary lifestyle, disturbed sleep, eye strain, neck, back and wrist pain. Reduced socialization, social anxiety and decreased academic performance are some additional ill effects of prolonged screen exposure seen on children which has indirect effects on the mental health of an individual.
Social interaction is vital for a child’s healthy development. Online platforms that are used by children and adolescents to connect with friends and family, share media content, and form social networks constitutes the social media. Some of the popular platforms include Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, and skype. In recent time, online multiplayer games, such as PUBG and Clash of Clans, are popular social media spaces for young people, where they connect and chat with other gamers while playing. While there are advantages to social media like helps create social support group, advocacy platform and helps in collaborative learning it has a flip side to it.
The disadvantage like exposure to inappropriate contact, indulging in risky behaviors, sexting on chatting platforms, cyberbullying, social media anxiety where children assess their self-worth by the number of likes they get. Breach in privacy content, revealing personal details like pictures, bank account details etc. can make them vulnerable to potential harm. Educating children about the permissible age wise use of various platforms is important. Informing and educating children about good online manners like do not post private information such as home address, personal pictures, respect copyright laws, never meet a digital person alone whom you have never met before is indispensable.
Parents must always reassure children that they love them and will be available for help in all situations. Lastly teaching them rules of “digital hygiene” are important. Balance use of screen time, correct posture to be adapted while sitting, frequent breaks to reduce eyestrains are some easy steps to follow. Keep children safe by co viewing and monitoring online content. Lastly Parents are the role models so modelling the right digital practices for children can be the first step towards teaching the right digital practices. Let us together reduce unhealthy media use to prevent upcoming mental health conditions like internet addictions.
It is high time we limit how much technology our kids use.
(Himani Narula , Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrician Director & Co-founder of Continua kids)
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