Kids’ smartphone addiction
Sourav Nandi works with an automobile dealer, while his wife is a government servant. The couple is in absolute distress as Deepa, their only daughter is yet to talk, even though she turned four last April. When consulted to a therapist, it was found that the kid had no physical disability as such, but excessive use of smartphones had caused the speech delay.
“Since we both have to reach our offices by 10 in the morning, we introduced smartphones to our daughter when she was all but a year old so that she doesn’t irritate us. This also works to distract her while she eats to avoid any fussy behaviour. Now, we are not sure when she will start talking,” said a remorseful Sourav.
It’s not just the speech delay, children can suffer from a variety of health disorders if they are exposed to smartphones at an early age, say experts.
Studies reveal that the more time kids spend on smartphones and social media, the worse their mental health is, thanks to their exposure to radiation emitted by the cell phones.
No wonder, the parents are a worried lot as the vacation is on.
Though summer vacation means a break from school, travel, and extra playtime for the schoolchildren, parents are now clueless as kids now prefer to glue to their smartphones instead of getting indulged in physical activities.
According to a survey commissioned by Kantar for Amazon in March 2023 among over 750 parents with young kids across cities in India, 96 per cent of parents are searching for screen-free ideas to keep their kids engaged with learning and fun programmes.
With a massive surge in use of smartphones in children, here’s what a few moms and a psychologist had to share with Sunday POST on the issue.
Parents are role models
Expressing her views on kids’ overuse of mobile phones, Dr. Sayali Mishra, an assistant professor in clinical psychology, KIMS, Bhubaneswar, says, “Post COVID pandemic, the use of mobile and other gadgets has increased. The acceptable screen time for children between the ages of 2 and 5 should not be more than an hour. From age 6 to 17, it should be no more than 2 hours. But children of all age groups are using mobile groups beyond the admissible time limit. Excessive screen time is a kind of behavioural addiction.”
No wonder, kids are suffering from issues like mood swings, irritability, attention problems, impatience and inability to form new friends, adds Mishra.
Wanting to know the preventive measures, she advises: “The parents have an important role to play in limiting the screen time of children. The parents themselves should keep an eye on their children’s use of mobile devices. For that, they can use detox apps, alarms or reminders for limited screen time, provide children with a fixed schedule of various activities even during summer vacation. The child should be rewarded for appropriate use of mobile and encouraged to use and read books in the physical form instead of online format.”
Mishra says communication channels in the family and discussion about the content watched by children are quite important.
For young children below the age of 8 to 9, the content should be regularly checked by parents. Inappropriate websites may be blocked, she added.
Mishra concluded by saying, “I think the proper use of the internet for information, education, new learning can be demonstrated to the child. The dangers of the web, the cases that take place with inappropriate use of social media or games should be discussed openly at home.”
Engage kids in physical activities
Simi Mandal, a working mother, believes that an hour of screen time for children during their summer break is adequate. She recognises the importance of balanced mobile viewing and encourages her kids to explore various offline activities for a well-rounded vacation experience.
Commenting on the negative effects of excessive screen time on children’s behaviour or health, she says, “I think after the pandemic, the kids have grown into using mobile phones regularly. Their behaviour evolves as they grow, often displaying aggression when confronted with parental advice. Their resistance leads them to talk back and disregard their studies. Consequently, their attentiveness wanes, prompting concern about their receptiveness to guidance and academic pursuits.”
Enrolling children in activity classes such as swimming, dancing, singing, and art classes can be beneficial, said Mandal.
“During the summer vacation, I have implemented a well-defined rule for my child when it comes to screen time. With the aim of striking a healthy balance between recreational activities and other essential aspects of life, I have allowed a maximum limit of one hour per day for screen usage. This rule serves as a practical guideline to ensure that my child remains engaged in a range of activities, both indoors and outdoors, and explores various avenues for growth and development. By setting this limit, I want to encourage him to explore his creativity, pursue hobbies, engage in physical activities, and spend quality time with family and friends,” she added, explaining how she limits the screen-time usage of her child.
Besides, she has compiled a list of engaging activities, both indoors and outdoors, that can be enjoyed during the summer break. These alternatives range from engaging in arts and crafts, visiting local libraries, exploring nature, playing board games, organising family outings, or even joining summer camps and workshops, Mandal informed.
“By implementing this screen time rule, I aim to instill in my child the importance of moderation, self-discipline, and holistic development. It not only ensures a healthy and well-balanced summer vacation but also sets a precedent for responsible technology use in their future endeavours,” she concluded.
Understanding children’s interests is important
Single working mom Sangeeta Parida finds it difficult to handle growing up children in the 21st century.
Though she interacts with students daily, as a school teacher, Parida admits to feeling helpless at times when it comes to her own child.
Narrating her difficulties, she said, “At times, my child enjoys watching funny videos, informative programmes, and dance clips from school. So, when I restrict access to the mobile, he gets obsessed and manages to watch them without my knowledge.”
Expressing her concern about excessive mobile use, she said, “I have observed some negative changes in my son’s behaviour and health due to too much mobile viewing. He prioritises mobile phones over everything else.”
On asking about the methods that she adopts to keep her son’s mobile use under control during the summer, Parida reveals, “He is allowed a maximum of one hour of usage, but not continuously, and internet access is not provided. All other portals except cartoons, funny videos, and informative websites, are prohibited for viewing, especially the online games. I also encourage him to play with his friends for two to three hours every day in order to keep him away from screens.”
Apart from this, Sangeeta and her son often engage in discussions, which help her understand her son’s interests. It also ensures that the mobile device is used wisely.
“I am happy to control the screen time to a certain extent but it’s a fact that we can’t completely remove it. A lot of efforts are required to deal with these 21st century smart children,” she concludes.
Think twice before granting children’s wishes.
Homemaker Kabita Jagdev says, “Children should not be allowed access to mobile phones under any circumstances.
“Mobile phones are consistently problematic for individuals. It is common knowledge that the use of mobile phones is not always beneficial, leading to an unfavourable atmosphere for both adults and children. However, I have observed disadvantageous consequences, specifically for children, resulting from their device usage. Since the pandemic, there has been a significant increase in illnesses affecting children. The widespread adoption of online classes has prompted a surge in device usage worldwide, causing children to develop a desire for technological products and exposing them to ailments like nearsightedness and eye exhaustion.”
Lamenting about the change of behaviour in kids, she said, “Children these days are more interested in YouTube content instead of joining their neighbourhood friends for outdoor games, disregarding their parents’ advice.”
What should one do to address the issue? To this, she responded, “Parents ought to encourage their kids to enrol in summer camps that offer a variety of activities, such as singing, painting, dancing, and learning about historical and ancient facts. This will not only keep them occupied but also help reduce their dependence on mobile phones.”
Parents too have to share the blame for children’s use of electronic gadgets for extended periods of time, asserts Kabita.
“Instead of submitting to their children’s obstinacy and granting their wishes without giving them a second thought, parents should create a rigid environment for them when it comes to utilising technology,” she concludes.