How Does Excessive Use of Electronic Devices Affect Children’s Mental Health?
Excessive screen time is the concern buzzing among kids today. Screens have become an essential part of our lives. First, we need to understand what is meant by screen time? Screen time is the total time spent per day looking at screens such as a cell phone, TV, computer, tablet, or any portable or visual device. Like the balanced diet we consume, screens must be well chosen and used in the right quantity and at the right time. Screen time can be healthy or unhealthy depending on how we use it. Screen time for educational and prosocial activities such as school work, interacting with friends and relatives is a healthy way, while watching an inappropriate TC show, visiting dangerous websites, playing inappropriate violent video games are some examples of unhealthy screen time.
According to the Indian Academy of Pediatrics Screen Time Guidelines, children below 2 years old should not be exposed to any type of screen. For children between 2 and 5 years old, it should not exceed 1 hour; For older children and teens, it is important to balance screen time with other activities such as physical activity, getting enough sleep, time spent on schoolwork, meals, hobbies, and family time that are necessary for overall development.
Prolonged screen staring can impact an individual’s health in a number of ways:
It can impact the mental health of children of all age groups, from infants to adolescents. It can lead to speech delay, hyperactivity, aggression, violence, desire for instant gratification, fear of missing out, fear of being left out, cyberbullying, distorted perception of sex by exposure to pornography, cyberbullying, drug use, self-harm, anxiety, and depression. Not only does excessive screen exposure impact mental health, it also indirectly impacts physical well-being. Some of the adverse physical effects observed are obesity, physical inactivity, sleep disturbances, eye strain, neck, back and wrist pain. Reduced socialization, social anxiety, and lower academic performance are additional adverse effects of prolonged screen exposure seen in children, which have indirect effects on an individual’s mental health.
Social interaction is vital for the healthy development of a child. Online platforms used by children and adolescents to connect with friends and family, share multimedia content and form social networks constitute social media. Some of the popular platforms include Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, and Skype. In recent times, online multiplayer games like PUBG and Clash of Clans are popular social media spaces for youngsters where they connect and chat with other gamers while playing. Although social media has advantages, such as creating a social support group, an advocacy platform and helping collaborative learning, it has a downside.
The downside like exposure to inappropriate touch, engaging in risky behaviors, sexting on chat platforms, cyberbullying, social media anxiety where kids rate their self esteem by number of likes that they get. Violation of privacy content, revealing personal details such as photos, bank account details, etc. can make them vulnerable to potential damage. It is important to educate children on the wise use of various platforms according to their age. Informing and educating children about good online manners such as not posting private information such as home address, personal photos, respecting copyright laws, never meeting a digital lonely person like you have never met before is essential.
Parents should always reassure children that they love them and will be available to help them in any situation. Finally, teaching them the rules of “digital hygiene” is important. Balancing the use of screen time, correct posture to adapt while sitting, frequent breaks to reduce eye strain are some easy steps to follow. Protect children by co-viewing and monitoring online content. Finally, parents are role models, so modeling digital best practices for children can be the first step towards teaching digital best practices. Let’s reduce unhealthy media use together to prevent future mental health issues like internet addictions.
It is high time to limit the use of technology by our children.
(Himani Narula, Director of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics and Co-Founder of Continua Kids)
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