Being glued to the screen is a common scenario in every household these days. Watching TV and particularly mobile screens is coming up as a hazardous habit in Children starting right from 6 months of age. Be it anywhere- at home, restaurants or social gatherings, its peacetime for parents when the kids are riveted to cartoon films and mobile screens.
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But, the real concern is the duration of exposure time to the screen. Adverse effects of screen time may not be seen immediately. But, it’s a silent killer. Centuries ago, mutation of ape’s tail in course of evolution was a welcome change for the progressing sapiens. Today, we run the risk of adversely mutating our brains because of consistent exposure to the screen.
Every day, we paediatricians see the bad effects of screen time on children. Dr Abhay Jain, a paediatrician from Aurangabad, conducted a study of his patients and screen time. He observed that the weaning period is a troublesome period for any child. Dr Abhay Jain observed that mothers enlist mobiles or TV to divert the child’s attention and engage him when feeding food. This way, the gradual process of replacement of a mother’s milk to other foods is done smoothly. And this is the period when mother and child get trapped in the screens. The study further showed that smartphones are used widely both in rural and urban households but percentage-wise the exposure to screen time is more in literate parents. The babies of illiterate rural housewives are less exposed to the screen. The study also showed that children are more exposed to smartphones than TV.
Many parents visit doctors complaining of cranky kids who do not sleep till late, are stubborn and lack concentration. Attention deficit is the new epidemic in paediatrics. But before diagnosing any illness, we ask about the time spent in front of the screen. This gives us a clue about why the child behaves in such a manner.
Our society is not yet well convinced about the concept of sleep debt. Generally, it is thought that elders are deprived of sleep due to overworking and tension, but nowadays the bitter truth is that children too, are entering their teenage years carrying with them the burden of sleep debt. Sleep debt drains your mental abilities and puts your physical health at risk. This sleep debt or poor slumber is linked with increasing cases of depression in teenage girls and boys. The real culprit behind this is screen time. Excessive exposure to bright screen inhibits melatonin, a neurohormone necessary to induce sleep.
Exposure to screen time also a direct link with childhood obesity and eating habits. Till sometime back, feeding period was the time to strengthen the emotional bond between mother and baby. Much before that, sometimes the children were even smacked for not eating properly but still a close bond existed between the mother and child. The smartphone age now has changed this picture completely. A busy working mother prefers a cartoon film rather than telling stories and singing nursery rhymes for the child. The child mechanically gulps down the food without enjoying the taste, colour and fragrance of the food. The taste buds no longer get sensitized to kinesthetic senses as the cartoon on the screen hogs all the attention from the food. Since all the senses are concentrated on the screen, the signal of the stomach is fully ignored, resulting in overeating. Prolonged screen time has increased the lassitude, minimized physical activity thereby increasing childhood obesity. Such obese children are often seen along the fast-food counters gorging on and enjoying the artificial, synthetic foodstuff. As since childhood, they have never developed the liking for natural foods.
Recently WHO has published guidelines to avoid risk factors emerging due to exposure to screen. The guidelines state that screen time should be zero for children below two years. Between 2 TO 5 years, it should be no more than an hour. After the age of two, the screen time should be accompanied by parents, so as to monitor the content of viewing. It is disheartening to hear words of praise from the parents about how their one-year-old unlocks the Smartphone and swipes to connect with his favourite youtube video. Parents should be aware of the danger signals of screen time than looking at it with pride. Parents justify the child’s actions by saying that the child learns ABCD and nursery rhymes on YouTube. These daily habits culminate into addiction. Some chemical changes take place in the brain after consuming liquor, cigarette or cocaine. The same changes happen gradually with an addiction to screen. Giving a mobile phone in the child’s hand is like giving a bottle full of liquor to consume. Screen addiction is nothing less than snorting cocaine.
Read other Health and Parenting Articles of Dr. Amol Annadate