Screen Time in the Digital Age

ANITHA on September 05, 2018

 

Children reading or playing on their tablets

The environment in which your child grows up is constantly being transformed thanks to the advent of technology and new innovations. Youngsters today spend a lot more time online and this behavioral trend is seriously affecting their ability to interact and more importantly connect with the people around them. And as fascinating a sight as it might be to behold your children deftly juggling laptops, computers, ipads and smartphones as they browse the internet, research studies show that multitasking, especially at an early age, hinders social skills, attention spans, memory and a whole lot more in youngsters.

At the risk of sounding old-fashioned, it is worthwhile taking note that our children will never enjoy some of the joys of growing up that we adults enjoyed during our childhood. For one, things were a lot simpler. Unnecessary distractions were minimal. Most of us even had timetables as school going students and were allowed to sit in front of the ‘Idiot Box’ (as televisions were known back then) only on weekends or in the evenings. This gave us a lot more time for friends, family and activities outdoors. We even knew the phone numbers of our friends by memory. Conversations were a lot more spontaneous and genuine. There were no smartphones or tablets. And computers didn’t have the kind of capabilities they do now.

Today, children have become too smart for their own good because they know that every fact or piece of information is just a click away. Everything you could possibly want to see on TV or listen to on the radio can be accessed on the internet. Children are so dependent on the virtual world that even a day or two without their smartphones would leave them feeling like their entire world has been brought to a standstill. In many cases, such phases even lead to withdrawal symptoms.

Studies show that the human brain isn’t fully equipped to make rational decisions during the growing up years. Allowing your child to use a laptop or a smartphone before this age with free and unrestricted access to the internet can be compared without exaggeration to the act of trying to cross a road blindfolded during peak hour traffic!

Thanks to the overload of information in today’s world, there are so many different perspectives and versions of what is right and wrong that deciding what’s appropriate and what’s not is a hard enough choice even for adults. Besides, there is so much out there on the internet that can’t be classified simply in terms of black and white. There might be nothing wrong with the content your child is viewing and it might be generally accepted as appropriate, but is it appropriate for your child? And even if it is, is so much screen time good for them? As a general rule, the answer to that one is no.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends:

  • For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they're seeing.

  • For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.

  • For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.

  • Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.

  • Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.

 

2 kids play on devices while their parents chat in the background

Children use their smartphones and tablets even outdoors. Hence the quality of the time they spend during physical activities such as camping or trekking is also compromised. Growing kids constantly stay glued to the screens on their mobiles or tablets for fear of ‘missing out’ on something. This can lead to a lack of involvement in the things they do in the real world. Not surprisingly, some countries already consider screen addiction as a clinical disorder and have rehab facilities to treat afflicted children.

There are other harmful effects that come with too much screen time including sleep deprivation, obesity, vision problems, aches, pains, a loss of social skills and even aggression. Prolonged exposure to the blue light emitted from the computer screen can seriously affect your child’s eyesight and can prevent your child from getting to sleep when they need to. Children need a lot more sleep than adults, as they are still growing. In addition, the use of electronic gadgets for long hours leads to a very sedentary and lethargic lifestyle which in turn can make children more prone to bodily aches, injuries and other health-related issues. Spending the better part of their time facing the LED screen of an electronic device, rather than other human beings, can slowly but surely impair your child’s emotional intelligence, making them more aggressive and easily given to bouts of anger, hostility or even violence.

 

2 boys playing with their devices

There are many things that you as a parent can do to protect your child and ensure that the amount of time they spend in front of the screen of an electronic device is kept to a minimum. For starters, you could spend more time with them! This could be a great opportunity for you to establish a real bond with your child by doing things together. It could be anything from going on a trek together, playing scrabble or even doing chores around the house. Children respond well to stimulating circumstances and you as a parent can ensure that they get plenty of it.

Electronic gadgets are a necessary evil in today’s world and there’s no running away from them. We are all walking a thin rope as we try to look for ways to balance out the time we spend using our gadgets without becoming overly dependent on them. Consider installing parental controls on your children’s devices.

There is no hard and fast rule as to how much screen time is too much because each child is wired differently. But you as a parent can keep a tab on the situation and decide where to draw the line. After all, you know your child best… and you know what’s best for them!

 

Writing credit: Authored by Anitha, a mother of two teens with interests in EdTech and a strong advocate for Digital Citizenship.
 
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