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The internet has become a basic utility like electricity and clean water. Globally, 4.57 billion people use the internet (59%) of which 4.17 billion are mobile internet users. Of these, 3.96 billion are on social media. It’s a great source of information and entertainment but unfortunately, the internet has also become a source of many problems. One great area of concern is the effect of screen time and early use of digital gadgets among our young children.
The 2013 Zero to Eight study commissioned by Common Sense Media showed that 38 percent of infants younger than the age of two use mobile devices. A 2015 Pew Research Study reports that 73 percent of 13-17 year-olds have smartphones and 24 percent admit using their phones almost constantly. A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that children spend more than seven hours per day on an electronic device on average.
• When they’re young, you hand over your phone to them willingly, to keep them occupied or quiet. This is how it starts.
• Kids may want a mobile phone or a video game because their best friend has one. This is when it aggravates.
• Eventually, physical play time turns into digital game time. This is when it becomes an addiction!
Emerging studies are showing screen time’s deleterious effect on the growing brain, socialization and general behaviour. The burden of the problem is too deep to cover everything in this short article but some of the negative effects are outlined below.
1. Hampers Cognitive Development
Research has shown that overexposure to gadgets can result in slow cognitive development, attention deficits, delayed speech and even impaired hearing. Problems with attention and focus may impact on a child’s performance in school, at home or when communicating with other people. Alarmingly, every 30-minute increase in handheld screen time translates to a 49% risk of expressive language delay. Brain scans also showed that kids with lots of screen time had a premature thinning of the cortex which processes different types of information from the senses.
2. Builds Obsession, Leading to Agitation
What starts as a means to pacify a toddler can soon turn into an obsession, increased agitation, temper tantrums, and difficulty in controlling emotions leading to hyperactivity, aggression, and anxiety.
3. Delays Physical Development
Lack of physical activity is bound to result in delayed physical development due to delay in manual sensory and physical stimulation.
4. Restrains Social Relationships
When kids and gadgets become inseparable, the attachment can stand in the way of bonding with family and friends of his/her age. This subsequently increases the amount of time a child spends alone leading to social isolation and trouble relating to other people.
5. Increases Risks of Obesity
Increased time spent in front of screens lead to increased snacking, and mindless eating habits thereby increasing the likelihood of childhood obesity. Overweight and obese children are more likely to remain obese into adulthood. This increases their risk to cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, joint diseases, endocrine disorders, respiratory problems, several types of cancers, psychological stresses, and other obesity-related conditions. A study in 2012 in Abu Dhabi showed that 14.7% of school-aged children are overweight and 18.9% are obese.
6. Causes Physical Strains and Pains & Sleep Disruption
Constant engagement with electronic devices causes eye problems, back pain and other muscle-related issues in children. The blue light emitted by display screens prevents the release of melatonin, an important sleep inducing hormone, which leads to sleep impairment.
Parents need to model responsible media use and establish family media plans that support balance, boundaries, and communication. Media should be viewed as a tool rather than a babysitter, reward, or punishment.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the following:
Avoid digital media use (except video-chatting) in children younger than 12 months
• For the 18-24 months age group, choose high quality programming and avoid solo media use
• For children 2 to 5 years of age, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programming, and co-view with your child.
• Turn off televisions and other devices when not in use
• Avoid using media as the only way to calm your child
• Monitor your children’s media content, what apps are used or downloaded
• Keep bedrooms, mealtimes, and parent-child playtimes screen-free
• No screens 1 hour before bedtime
• Remove devices from bedrooms before bed
Nothing will ever replace human interaction and socialization. Play and interact with your child rather than using digital media. Talk and have an extensive discussion with your pediatrician about responsible screen time.
Authored by Dr. Romulo Dimarucut, Specialist Paediatrician at Filipino Family Clinic, Mediclinic Deira.
For appointments call 800 1999 or download the MyMediclinic24x7 app.
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