Children have easy access to televisions, tablets, phones and gaming devices. Infants, toddlers and preschoolers are now growing up in an environment saturated with technologies and digital gizmos. Screens are clearly a part of our everyday lives like never before. It’s absolutely essential for a number of daily routines like social media, online food shopping, connecting with loved ones, listening to music and sharing messages.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued guidelines for screen usage in children. For children under two years of age, the only screen interaction should be in presence of an adult and making sure that the content is carefully selected. For children between two and five years of age, not more than one hour per day of independent screen time is advocated. No specific limit for older children has been stated, provided it doesn’t interfere with their sleep, physical activities and other healthy habits.
These recommendations are useful but obviously difficult to implement in a child who is fixated on a screen behaviour to keep himself or herself engaged and entertained.
We can keep listing these alarming numbers. But the fact of the matter is that we are dependent on these new-age technologies for essentially everything and we consume an excessive amount of these harmful ‘blue-light’ along with the barrage of information that we intend to consume.
Adverse effects of screen usage are very well known but still more research is needed to fully understand them. However, these have to be emphasised and reiterated even more as this new-age obsession encroaches on our life. Excessive screen usage leads to reduced physical activity, increased weight gain, poor social interaction, reduced family time, less sleep, hyperactivity, headaches and eyesight problems. There are some other negative implications which might come to our knowledge in the coming years.
Our screens are pervasive and addictive. We know it from our personal experience with them. It is not a surprise that our kids are fascinated by this activity and jump on to it quickly, easily and intuitively. Screens and its content shapes our children’s minds and we need to make sure that it’s in the right direction.
I have always advocated the 4’M’ rule for all my patients and parents.
|There are many alarming facts which are worth noting. According to a survey,
|Children aged 0 to 2 years engage in more than 3 hours of screen time per day.
|School aged children
49% spend more than 2 hours on screen in a day
16% spend more than 4 hours per day.
|In the US
95% of teens have access to smartphones
For children between two and five years of age, not more than one hour per day of independent screen time is advocated
Minimise your kids’ screen time. I understand that this is the major hurdle. As a parent, keep set times for your toddlers to enjoy screens. It should be something they look forward to during the day rather than having uncontrolled access to screens throughout the day. If your children are spending a lot of leisure time on screens, start by setting smaller and more attainable goals. Reduce their screen time to half and then slowly reduce it to reach close to the recommended allowance.
Excessive screen usage leads to reduced physical activity, increased weight gain, poor social interaction, reduced family time, less sleep, hyperactivity, headaches and eyesight problems
Mitigate and curate their content to include educational content. Joining them during their screen time and understanding their current choices helps in curating the right content for them.
Be Mindful of dependence on screens and think of alternative activities to keep them engaged. The best way to do this is to keep hand-held devices away from their reach and visibility. Outdoor activities are a good distraction from the screens and children tend to enjoy it more than indoor activities.
Finally, be a Model for your child by maintaining good screen time behaviour yourself. Establish no screen zones at home like dining space and bedrooms.