Shut Mumbai schools and online classes turn parents into ‘screen guard’
- As parents worry, experts advise offline activities; say some kids need medical help, counselling
Merely three months into the lockdown, Praket Patil’s (name changed) parents were already anxious about what was to follow for the next months.
A Class 5 student of a reputed school in the western suburbs, Praket’s screen addiction had increased massively, as he remained cooped inside his 1-BHK apartment with his parents owing to the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown.
After the schools closed last March and children had to remain confined to their homes, Praket’s screen addiction, which his parents had otherwise tried to put an end through other activities, seemed to resurface.
“He would be on the phone or on the computer the entire day. For several hours, he would play games or browse the Internet. If we tried to stop him, he would become aggressive. We had seen him being obsessed with devices, but sending him out to play or taking him out on a drive in the past would distract him. But with the lockdown in place, we had no such alternative,” said Praket’s mother Shamika, an IT (information technology) professional.
With schools in the state remaining closed for offline classes for more than 10 months, parents are having a tough time limiting their children’s screen time.
Just like schools, extracurricular activities and coaching have also moved online and many parents are struggling to come up with ways to reduce screen usage.
According to a survey conducted by OLX in June 2020, the average screen time for kids between the age of 5 and 15 years had seen a 100% rise since the first phase of lockdown in March 2020.
More than half the parents who responded in the nationwide survey said their children were spending nearly five hours more on screens post the lockdown.
Dr Sagar Mundada, a Mumbai-based psychiatrist, said a large number of parents have been approaching him with screen-related concerns.
“While the issue of screen addiction already existed before the Covid-19 outbreak, the lockdown seems to have aggravated the situation. Children are inside their homes and it is thus becoming very difficult for parents to wean them off their devices. In several cases, we have had to prescribe medicines to calm these children as they tend to get aggressive if the screen is taken away from them. A lot of counselling along with medical help has been giving results,” he added.
Praket’s family had approached a nearby psychiatrist a few days after they noticed his symptoms.
“He would attend school for two hours but spend the remaining 10 hours playing games. We tried everything — from positive reinforcements to punishments — but nothing worked. As both my husband and I were working from home, it was an added pressure on us. We then took him to a psychiatrist and he prescribed a few medicines along with some activities that we could do with him. It has been nearly four months now and we can finally see some improvement,” said Shamika.
While the standard operating procedures issued by the Maharashtra government only allow upto three hours of online learning, parents said children are invariably online for one thing or the other.
“The school lasts for two-three hours and then there are several assignments which have to be submitted online. Activities like sports and music have also moved online and in addition to all this, children want to use their screens during their breaks. That takes the screen time to three-eight hours a day easily,” said Anita Shetty, a Malad-based parent.
So far, there is no golden number suggesting the optimum number of hours to be spent on the screen.
The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends less than one hour per day of screen time for children between the ages of two and five years, and limited screen time for children above the age of five years.
The World Health Organization, in its guidelines issued in April 2019, had suggested that children between the ages of two and four should have no more than one hour of screen time per day.
Dr Prachi Agashe, paediatric ophthalmologist and squint specialist from Agashe Hospital in Kurla, said the size of the screen, the type of device used, the brightness and the distance of viewing are significant factors that parents need to keep in mind when children use screens, to avoid the associated risks like myopia and digital eye strain.
“They should also ensure that when there is a break during the online learning session, the child should essentially relax and if needed, do an activity that does not involve migrating to another screen. The time spent on the screen apart from the necessary school hours should be reduced as far as possible,” she added.
Counsellors said they have been encouraging parents to take up online and offline activities with their children to ensure a healthy mix of both.
“For instance, if they watch a small recipe video and then spend some time in actually making that recipe, it is an engaging activity and this is a constructive use of the screen time,” added Raheen Jummani, a Mumbai-based psychologist.