How Much is too Much!
I find a lot of parents telling me – “My son always wants to play on the phone. If I don’t give it to him, he starts throwing a tantrum.”
Or “My daughter is so smart. She is just 2 years old but can use my smartphone completely on her own!” – (Is that something to be really proud of?? – think about it!)
Or “I have given my son a tablet for his studies, but I frequently catch him playing games and not studying”.
These are common problems and multiple parents have shared these concerns with us.
“We don’t know how it started.” – most of them say.
Remember the time when your child was so small (probably less than a year old) and was crying, and you showed him that video of the nursery rhyme to pacify him. And then again, the next time. And then, when he was not eating his dinner, you showed him a cartoon video, and fed him quickly and quietly while he watched it, almost smitten by it. Well, that was when it started!
Exposure to a lot of gadgets and screens, especially at a young age can be very harmful.
- Hampers Brain Development – We know that brain develops at a very fast pace upto the age of 6 years. The more the child is exposed to different experiences, the higher the neuron connections. While most of us show our very young children apps and videos to help them learn and give them an edge, but research has shown that high exposure to screens can lead to a slower cognitive development and thereby hampering brain development.
- Attention Deficit – A lot of parents today complain that their child cannot sit patiently to complete an activity, has poor concentration, or has a very low attention span. Do you ever remember people complaining about these issues when you were a child – probably not so many! One of the main reasons for this is exposure to a lot of screens for large periods of time. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention states that in the US, over 6 million children in the age group 4 and 17 years have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and this is directly linked to the very high increase in usage of mobile phones.
- Reduced social skills – An obvious side-effect of spending more time with gadgets and in front of screens is that you spend less time with people. The reduced social interaction at a young age, when social skills are still developing, might lead to poorer social skills in comparison to peers. As they grow up, we also see such children feeling alone and isolated, with a lower capacity to make and maintain real friendships. (Of course, with focus and some effort, this can be sorted out for most children).
- Reduced Sleep – Melatonin is a sleep-inducing hormone and the body releases it when it feels the need to rest. However, did you know that the blue light emitted from screens, prevents the release of melatonin! As a result, your child (and even you for that matter) will have difficulty sleeping if you watch too much television before bedtime, even though the body may be tired.
- Poor Eyesight – This is another obvious side-effect. High exposure to screens, results in poor eyesight of children. Too much contraction of eye muscles results in an inability of the muscles to relax and may cause myopia. We can see so many small children with eye-glasses today and screen exposure is definitely one of the key reasons for this.
- Physical Problems – Usually, while using handheld devices, people, especially children do not realise the incorrect posture of their body, resulting in pain in the neck and back. Sitting at one place, only swiping fingers, and not playing outside also results in obesity and poor physical development of children.
The question then arises – are gadgets completely bad?
The answer is simple – They are not bad. The key is moderation.
I recently met a mother of a 5 year old. They did not have a television at home and their child had never been allowed to watch anything. They had come to complain regarding some 30 minute educational videos that were being shown in the school once a week!
While screen time has its negative effects, in today’s world, it is not practical to take such extreme measures as to completely isolate the child from them. In fact, research has shown that use of technology, especially in education, helps a child learn faster and good quality content might help clear his/her concepts better than just reading a book. Gamification of quizzes also makes children practice regularly. The key, as I mentioned earlier, is moderation.
Many experts including American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have given guidelines on how much screen time is acceptable for children. Based on what these experts have recommended, we can surmise the following:
- Below 18 months – Children younger than 18 months should not be exposed to screens at all.
- 18months to 2 years – Very occasional high quality television programs under the guidance of parents.
- 2-5 year old – Children in this age group can watch high quality, non-violent content (on television and not handheld devices) for upto 1 hour per day. Handheld devices are still not recommended for the use of this age group. It is usually recommended that parents view the media content with their child, explain to them what is happening and relate it to the world.
- Above 6 years – Children over 6 years can have a maximum screen time of upto 2 hours per day. This includes any educational content that they are viewing in schools or at homes, television shows that they are watching and games that they are playing. Again, exposure to handheld devices should be as low as possible (maximum of 30minutes). Children under 12 years should not be exposed to violent video games.
Keeping a check on how many hours and minutes the children are watching content on screens and also a check on what content they are watching is an absolute must today – but it MUST be done! Do not give in to the desire to hand them a phone or tablet so that you can make them eat in peace. Do not believe that they will learn rhymes and stories if they watch it on a screen. They can do so even if you sing to them. Read stories and picture books instead of exposing them to television screens. Most of us fall prey to this quick fix solution but always remember ‘Moderation is the key’ and the harm screen exposure does is much higher in comparison to the gains.