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Mumbai doctors advise families to take regular digital time-offs

mumbai Updated: Nov 20, 2017 10:28 IST
Aayushi Pratap
Aayushi Pratap
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,digital time off,technology

Psychiatrists said that higher screen time exacerbates symptoms for people who have social anxiety. (Photo representational purpose only)

Doctors are asking people to switch off their gadgets for a stipulated amount of time daily to prevent addiction and focus on real-time interactions

As the clock strikes seven in the evening, everyone in the Joshi household in Malad, switches off their mobiles, laptops and tablets and places it in a basket on the side table.

The family of four, now mandatorily gathers in the living room, and talks to each other for an hour. The exercise is a part of their weekly ‘digital detox’, advised to them by a psychiatrist who during a session with the family learnt about constant fights between the husband and the wife. On further prodding, he realised it was lack of real time communication between the family which fuelled the fights.

Doctors in the city are increasingly asking both children and adults to concertedly switch off their mobile phones, laptops and tablets for a stipulated amount of time, as increase in time spend on gadgets has becoming pressing concern for them.

“There has certainly been a drastic increase in the amount of time both children and adults spend on online, which is taking away the real time interaction within family members,” said Dr Pervin Dadachanji , child and adolescent psychiatrist, child development centre UMEED, Parel.

What is even more worrying, she added is that families are misconstruing the time they spend watching television together as ‘family time’, she added.

A 2009 research (see reference) which studied fifty one children in the age group of 12, 24, and 36 months along with a parent in a room with a television program playing in the background, for half an hour, found that both the quantity and quality of parent-child interaction decreased in the presence of the television.

“Parents who find their children a handful, find it easier to give them a phone or a tablet to keep them engaged,” said Dr Henal Shah, professor at the department of psychiatry at BYL Nair Hospital, Mumbai Central.

In 2016, The American Association of Paediatrics (AAP) announced new recommendations for children’s media use. “For children aged six and older, parents must ‘place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviours essential to health,” warned doctors from AAP.

However, when it comes to issues relating to children, there is a fair amount of learning and behavioural changes which parents have to implement, which they don’t.

Dr Kersi Chavda, consultant psychiatrist at PD Hinduja Hospital, Mahim, said it is always a challenge to ensure that parents become good role models if they want their child’s behaviour to change. Very often while counselling a child, I learn that the parents expect the child to cut down on their digital time, while they continue to spend time on it on the pretext of work, said Dr Chavda.

“In such cases it is tough to make parents understand the implications of their actions on the child’s behaviour. I tell them bluntly that they have to decide what they want,” he added.

Meanwhile, psychiatrists said that rise in screen time exacerbates symptoms for people who have social anxiety and mild to severe forms of autism. Dr Milan Balakrishnan, psychiatrist, Juno Clinic, Khar, recounted a case, where parents had brought their 14-year-old fourteen daughter to get treated for her phone addiction.

“She spent eight to ten hours a day on the phone either on social networking sites or playing games,” Dr Balakrishnan said.

On further examination, he found that the phone addition was masking a larger psychological problem of social anxiety, where she didn’t want to engage in conversations with anyone at school or at home.

“Spending time on the phone was a way of coping with her anxiety problems. It was escape from the real world,” Dr Balakrishnan said.

Increase in social anxiety or stress in the long run can lead to neurological damage at the cellular level. Repeated stress, according to doctors, releases a hormone called adrenaline, which stimulates the hypothalamus region so more adrenaline is released. “Repeated secretion of adrenaline leads to neuronal damage in the hippocampus areas of the brain which are the seats of emotion and may lead to depression,” Dr Balakrishnan said.

Doctors said the process to get both children and parents hooked off the screens is a gradual process. “No addiction can be reduced drastically overnight. One needs to start with reducing screen time from a few minutes to an hour, over a period of days,” said Dr Chavda.

First Published: Nov 20, 2017 10:11 IST