The ill effects of too much screen time
By Dr. Nita Jagad
A 5-year-old child was brought by young techie parents with a complaint that he was very hyperactive, violent, and displayed destructive behavior. He was very impulsive, stubborn and demanding. The parents looked very worried and I could understand their concern. After a thorough and detailed evaluation of the child’s routine, I found that the parents were working and would stay out the whole day. This child was primarily looked after by a nanny who was a young 18-years-old girl. To make her job easy and comfortable, the nanny would give him an iPad or a mobile phone to play games and allow him to watch cartoons and videos online. Whenever the child didn’t get a phone or an iPad to play, he would throw tantrums and the parents or the maid would give in to his demands. This eventually became his behavior pattern.
Another case was for a 14-year-old Kiran (name changed) who would spend hours in her room, not allowing anyone in and would visit different social media sites online. She remained irritable most of the time and her grades at school also deteriorated. Once her father caught her visiting a porn site and got mad at her and hit her. This made the problem even worse. After confronting her and a lot of reassurance, she revealed that a distant uncle used to send her obscene pictures, videos and messages, and would threaten her to not tell anyone. She was too guilty and never spoke about it. Her friends rejected her due to her altered behavior and she felt lonely. She didn’t know how to confess and discuss this matter with parents as she was not sure how they would react and was scared of her strict and angry father.
Rosaline O Neale, a senior adviser with Australian Communications and Media Authority’s Cyber Smart Outreach Division says, “Children appear to be going online younger and younger. Desktops, laptops, tablets, iPads, mobiles and other touchscreen devices are widely used amongst children for entertainment, enjoyment and means for social interactions and communication. Almost all children less than 11 years had accessed Internet some time and used multiple types of devices. In fact, statistics reveal that 67% of 12-13 years and almost 99% of 16-18 years old children owned a smartphone.
Cell phone ownership and use of internet are so widespread that we are compelled to look at its effects on development and behavior of kids and study the mobile youth culture.
Impacts of cellphone and Internet use among children:
- Those children, who spend a lot of time online, engage in lesser or no physical activities and sports. They are at a greater risk of early onset of lifestyle diseases such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes, etc.
- Children end up wasting a lot of valuable time, which could have been used for creative purposes.
- They spend more time with virtual friends leading to the poor socio-emotional development and poor relationship skills. They miss out on having close friendships and family interactions and tend to suffer from loneliness, depression and psychological issues in the long term.
- Whenever children are exposed to repeated violence, fast moving pictures, sudden zoom-ins and loud music, their emotional brain gets activated. That is how children become impulsive, hyperactive, irritable, frustrated, and destructive due to repeated exposure to media and internet. Jennifer Aaker, a behavioral psychologist and Professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, in her research says there is a decline in empathy in kids, and increased narcissism and bullying in last decade due to use of technology.
- There is also a huge risk of Cyber Bullying and harassment.
- Children may share personal information on the internet without knowing the consequences.
- They can get exposed to inappropriate, hateful, violent and sexual material online accidentally or deliberately and face sexual exploitation.“It is true that internet will change everything and it is not true that everything will change.”Said Paul Deninger when he was the CEO of Hitech Investment Bank, Broadview.
Internet and cell phones have revolutionized the 21st century and helped people do things they could have never imagined. The internet is a treasure of a great deal of knowledge and creativity, connecting and communicating at its best. In fact, even some of the teachers feel the students were better engaged in their projects when allowed to take ideas from the internet. But we must do something for the ill effects it has.
How can we help?
Take extra caution on the content your children are watching on their mobile phones.
In today’s era of media explosion, it is impossible to say no to cell phone and internet use. Only guided and supervised use is the solutions. Here are a few:
- Model yourself regarding the use of Internet and cellphone. Be a media literate parent yourself and use technological tools, filters and security locks to monitor and limit harmful material online.
- Educate children to not share too much of personal information online.
- Have a scheduled time allotment for mobiles and internet access.
- Be alert to unexpected changes in your child’s behavior and personalities like negative self-perception and self-harming thoughts, unexpected changes in their friend’s group, peer rejection, decreased attention span, increased sleepiness, decreasing school grades and increased absenteeism.
- Parents can take help of ‘Internet Safety Awareness Services’ and aim towards making your children responsible digital citizens.
- You can also take help of professional counselors if need be.
Isabelle Filliozat is a clinical psychologist and an expert in positive parenting explains the science behind screen time. We all recollect our own feelings when suddenly there is a power failure at the time of climax in the movie or a video game. It is hard for even adults to come out of the pleasure created by the screen in our brain, it is even harder for kids. This happens because the neurochemicals of pleasure are produced in our brain and body during screen time.
When we suddenly switch off the screen, the neurochemicals in the brain are suddenly depleted and create a feeling of pain in the body. This is where the children’s tantrums begin. Cutting them off abruptly is hurtful. Instead, take a moment to sit down with your child, maybe half a minute, watch and take interest in whatever he is doing or watching. Ask a few innocent questions about it. For eg. “What are you watching?”… “That’s so funny.”…”Who is that?” etc. Wait for him or her answer to the question. Once his attention is off the screen and answers your question, he starts coming out of the cut-off zone and back in the real world where he is aware of your existence. The neurochemical drop is slower because you built a bridge of communication with the child, a bridge that will allow your child to step out from the screen back into the real world without any crisis and tantrums.
Hope these tips can help parents in coping with the modern day stress of screen time and overuse of gadgets for their kids.
- www.aap.org/media andchidrencommnication toolkit
- www.healthychildren.org,…,F where we stand: Screen Time
Dr. Nita M Jagad, MBBS MD DCH, is a senior paediatrician based out of Mumbai. She’s an EQ trainer, certified and trained by Equip kids, India. She is a passionate advocate of Emotional Intelligence in children and parents. She’s one of our students at The Lifestyle Portal Online Writing Program.
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