Is your child hooked to a smartphone? Here’s why you should be worrying | health and fitness | Hindustan Times
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Is your child hooked to a smartphone? Here’s why you should be worrying

A young dad I met recently boasted that his toddler, all of 16 months, played videos on her parents’ tablets and smartphones on her own. I asked him if she could hold a crayon or pencil, and he snapped, “She’s too young for that, she’ll learn when she begins school.”

health and fitness Updated: Feb 02, 2017 18:30 IST
Sanchita Sharma
For children older than two years, screen use must be limited to one hour or less a day.
For children older than two years, screen use must be limited to one hour or less a day.(Shutterstock)

A young dad I met recently boasted that his toddler, all of 16 months, played videos on her parents’ tablets and smartphones on her own. I asked him if she could hold a crayon or pencil, and he snapped, “She’s too young for that, she’ll learn when she begins school.”

She’s also too young to use digital gadgets on her own, but her smug dad doesn’t know it. Children younger than 18 months should not use screen media except for video-chatting, recommends the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Parents who want their children to get an early start should take a stab at using apps and programming only when their child is 18-24 months old. Toddlers must never use media by themselves. For children older than two years, screen use must be limited to one hour or less a day.

One in five adolescents in the US spending more than five hours a day on smartphones, tablets, computers, and videogames compared to one in 12 watching more than five hours a day of television, found a study of 24,800 adolescents in grades 9-12, reported Harvard researchers in The Journal of Pediatrics last week.

Too much screen time hurts children before they can grow up and inflict further device-induced injuries — text-neck, dry eyes and texting-thumb injury, to name a few — on themselves. Here’s how children take a fall.

Missing imagination

Storytelling, reading, talking, drawing and playing has been replaced by texting, surfing, watching videos, playing games and listening to music on tablets, laptops and phones in many homes.

Screen-time lowers imagination and creativity and makes children dependent on external stimuli for entertainment, writes child-development professor and best-selling author David Elkind in his book, The Power of Play. Left to themselves, children are more likely to use their imagination to engage with the world around them.

Poor social skills

Screen time also lowers empathy and their ability to engage with peers. Children hooked to screens have fewer friends and are more likely to have attention problems.

They are also more likely to bully others or be bullied. Watching videos on TV and other devices for three or more hours causes more conduct problems by age 8, but playing electronic games – mostly because they’re interactive than passing watching videos – shows no such link, reported a study in The BMJ.

Obesity

One in four preschoolers is obese and a third of those who are overweight in kindergarten become obese by 8th grade, reported a study in New England Journal of Medicine. Screen devices are a problem, along with bad diets and little physical activity.

Children who spend less time outdoors and more time sitting also eat more junk food. Teens who spend more than five hours a day on screen devices have more sugary drinks and don’t get enough physical activity, which makes them 43% more likely to be obese compared with those who don’t spend as much time on devices.

Less sleep

Light from backlit screens disrupts the body’s sleep-wake cycle, leading to fitful sleep. Sleeping less and waking up several times during the night makes children irritable and less energetic the next day than children who get adequate sleep.

Lack of sleep also adds to weight gain, with several studies showing that those who sleep less than seven hours weighed more than those who slept for nine hours or more. Delaying bedtime by an hour during the schooldays raises weight in teenagers, reported a study in the journal Sleep.

Bad eyesight

Not spending enough time in natural light during childhood affects the eye’s ability to rapidly focus on objects at varying distances. Using screen devices in poorly-lit rooms and focusing continuously at a fixed screen causes eyestrain and reduces the blinking rate, making the eyes dry, gritty and painful.

Shortsightedness has rapidly shot up in children over the past decade, with one in eight 12-year-olds in urban India needing glasses to read the blackboard, reported researchers from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in the journal PLOS ONE.

Lower grades

Using online learning modules in class lowers test scores, even among the most intelligent and motivated of students, reported the journal Psychological Science. Students with laptops spent more time on social media, reading email, shopping for clothes and watching videos than using it for coursework, spending 37 of 50 minutes on average browsing the web for non-class-related purposes.

As a result, their test scores suffered. Previous research shows that taking notes on a laptop is less conducive to learning than writing notes by hand, which requires listening, absorbing and sifting information before penning it down.

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