Our children are growing up in a world that’s completely different from what we lived in 15 years ago. These are the ‘digital days’ where even toddlers seem to know how to use smartphones before they can talk. But what happens when our children have uncontrolled access to technology? Their health begins to deteriorate. Yes, technology can hurt our children, beyond what we can imagine.
How does technology harm our children?
Spending prolonged hours on the phone/ tablet can have adverse effects on a child’s physical and mental health. Worldwide researches have proven that technology addiction can affect and delay the development of children by limiting their creative, imaginative and physical challenges to achieve optimal motor and sensory development. It also makes them extremely restless, resulting in behavioural issues and problems at school.
Effects on mental health:
According to child health experts, technology addiction is the latest health problem in children. Gadgets like smartphones open a whole new world of visual entertainment to children. It captures their interest in an instant and can keeps them hooked for hours end. But the real problem arises when their interest turns into addiction. It becomes impossible for them spend a day without gadgets and worse, may exhibit extreme withdrawal symptoms.
Recent researches on brain imaging shows that technology influences the brain’s frontal cortex (the part which controls executive functioning including impulse control) exactly the same way as that of cocaine. Technology is so hyper-exciting that it increases the dopamine levels (the feel-good neurotransmitter that plays a major role in addiction), making the child crave for more and more stimulation.
Technology induced autism
Too much technology can make children lonely. Happy or sad, they prefer the company of their gadgets to friends and family. They disconnect from everything and prefer to be in a world of their own. This deteriorates their social and communication skills, so much so that they don’t even establish eye contact while talking to people.
Heard of Electronic Screen Syndrome? It’s an unrecognised, modern day disorder caused due to overuse of gadgets. ESS is essentially a ‘dysregulation’ disorder or the inability to modulate one’s attention, mood or level of arousal in a manner that’s appropriate to the environment. Interaction with electronic screens shifts the nervous system into ‘fight-or-flight’ mode, causing the child to become over stimulated. This leads to symptoms like extreme irritability, depression, excessive tantrums, frustration, poor self-regulation, disorganised behaviour, defiance, poor socialising skills, refusing eye contact, alteration in sleep cycle, learning difficulties and bad memory.
Too much technology can also lead to dangerous conditions like psychosis and neurosis.
Spending time with gadgets can gradually extend to late nights, depriving the child of essential sleep time. Besides, looking continuously into the screen prevents the brain from resting, resulting in insomnia and disruption of the normal sleep-wake cycle. Lack of sleep can lead to several health problems, including depression and hallucination.
Unfortunately, children are finding it more fun to play on their mobiles than with real friends. This leads to social isolation – the child becomes a loner, an introvert who does not like to make friends or socialise with people. An extremely dangerous condition, social isolation can cause anxiety, depression, distrust in others and suicidal tendencies.
Effects on physical health
Technology can cause multiple health problems in children including
- Dry, weak eyes as they stare at the screen for hours.
- Continuous headache.
- They bend their head while looking into phones or tablets, which puts excess pressure on the heck, head and shoulder. This causes several back and neck issues including spondylitis and back pain.
- Most of the time, they sit with their backs bent or lie down on the bed with head elevated – this causes postural problems like hunching.
- Continuous movement of fingers and wrist leads to injuries like the ‘texting thumb’.
- Addiction to gadgets forces them sit at home, which means outdoor play and physical activity. This makes the overweight.
- Physical and mental development issues
- Their bones and muscles become weak due to reduced physical activity.
Technology can also make them fall into several dangers/ traps on the Internet. They may befriend strangers on social media, who can end up hurting them (child sexual abuse, money extortion, drug networks etc.). Children may also become victims social bullying, which can affect their mental health adversely.
So what can you do about this?
It’s not practical to deny technology, but it’s possible to limit the use of technology.
Limit the screen time
Children don’t need to spend hours on gadgets. Limit the phone/ tablet/ computer time to 30 minutes or so every day. And that too, under your strict supervision.
Lead by example
If you want your child to listen to what you say, make sure you don’t set he wrong example. Do not fall victim to the ‘distracted parent syndrome’ wherein you yourself fail to detach from technology when required. Encourage them to play outdoors
Show your child how exciting the world outside the mobile is. Encourage him or her to make friends, cycle, play and engage in outdoor activities. This will not only set their mind free, but will also make them healthy and more sociable. Introduce them to the joy of reading
There’s nothing more exciting and inspiring like a good book. And when we say good book, we also mean the good, old paperback book (not the electronic readers). Let your child’s creativity and imagination grow. Interactive activities
Engage them in family or peer group activities that will encourage them to speak, interact, open up, laugh, feel loved and be inclusive. Encourage their talent
What is your child good at? Art? Music? Dance? Cooking? Encourage him or her to take up related activities (like an art camp) and see the difference for yourself.
If you feel that your child is too enamoured by technology, it’s advisable to do a digital detox. Take off everything that’s got to do with technology – phones, tablets, play stations, laptops for a few days. There might be strong resistances and tantrums initially, but don’t lose heart. Make him or her understand that the reason why you are doing so. After everything is settled, train your child to use technology judiciously, under supervision.
We know that children turn to addiction when they feel bored, lonely, alienated and purposeless. The solution is to help them to connect to meaningful real-life experiences and relationships, and extend them unconditional support.
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