Excessive screen time is the fashionable concern among children in today’s times. Screens have become a very essential part of our lives. First, we need to understand what is meant by screen time. Screen time is the total time spent per day viewing screens such as mobile phones, televisions, computers, tablets, or any portable or visual device. Like the balanced food we consume, screens must be chosen properly and used in the right amount and at the right time. Screen time can be healthy or unhealthy depending on how we use it. Screen time for educational and prosocial activities such as school work, interacting with friends and family is a healthy way, while watching inappropriate CT program, visiting unsafe websites, playing inappropriate violent video games are some examples of unhealthy screen time.
According to the Indian Academy of Pediatrics screen time guidelines, children under the age of 2 should not be exposed to any type of screen. For children from 2 to 5 years old it should not exceed 1 hour; For older children and teens, it’s important to balance screen time with other activities such as physical activity, adequate sleep, time for schoolwork, meals, hobbies, and family time that are required for overall development.
Prolonged viewing of screens can affect a person’s health in several ways:
It can affect the mental health of children in all age groups, from infants to teenagers. It can cause speech delay, hyperactivity, aggression, violence, desire for instant gratification, fear of missing out, fear of being left out, cyberbullying, distorted perception of sex from exposure to pornography, cyberbullying, drug use, self-harm, anxiety. and depression. Excessive screen exposure not only affects mental health, but indirectly affects physical well-being as well. Some of the harmful effects on the physical effects observed are obesity, sedentary lifestyle, sleep disorders, eyestrain, neck, back and wrist pain. Reduced socialization, social anxiety, and decreased academic performance are some additional harmful effects of prolonged screen exposure seen in children that have indirect effects on the mental health of an individual.
Social interaction is vital to the healthy development of a child. The online platforms that children and adolescents use to connect with friends and family, share multimedia content, and form social networks constitute social networks. Some of the popular platforms include Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, and Skype. Recently, multiplayer online games such as PUBG and Clash of Clans are popular social networking spaces for youngsters, where they connect and chat with other gamers while playing. While social media has advantages, such as helping to create a social support group, an advocacy platform, and aiding in collaborative learning, it has a flip side.
The downside like exposure to inappropriate contacts, indulging in risky behaviors, sexting on chat platforms, cyberbullying, anxiety on social media where kids gauge their self-esteem by the number of likes they get. Violation of privacy content, disclosure of personal details like pictures, bank account details, etc. may make them vulnerable to potential harm. It is important to educate children about age-wise use of various platforms. It is essential to inform and educate children about good manners online, such as not posting private information such as home address, personal photos, respecting copyright laws, never meeting alone with a digital person you have never met before .
Parents should always assure children that they love them and that they will be available to help them in all situations. Finally, it is important to teach them the rules of “digital hygiene”. Balanced use of screen time, correct posture to adjust while sitting, frequent breaks to reduce eyestrain are some easy steps to follow. Keep kids safe by viewing and monitoring online content. Ultimately, parents are role models, so modeling correct digital practices for children can be the first step in teaching correct digital practices. Let’s reduce unhealthy media use together to prevent upcoming mental health conditions such as internet addictions.
It’s about time we limit the amount of technology our children use.
(Himani Narula, Director of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics and Co-Founder of Continua kids)
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