What is screen-time? Its defined as any time a child spends with a screen in front of his face. For example,TV, computer, laptop, tablets, theatre screen, smart phones, DVD player, hand held video games etc.”
With the recent advances in technology, the amount of gadgets and screens have drastically increased. This increase has no doubt made communication, access to knowledge very convenient and at fingertips but at the same time it has also slowly started to show its negative effects. There is now an overwhelming concern in the medical field that over use of screen time may affect physical and mental health, social skills and relationships. It may also affect cognitive skills, attention and brain development just like any other substance or drug abuse. We are increasingly getting aware of the neuroplastic nature of the brain and its ability to re-wire itself according to the stimulus it receives. The infant and toddler brain is the most neuroplastic, almost like a sponge which absorbs anything that comes its way. In my clinical practice , lately I have been observing healthy 2 year olds with no cognitive defects but having speech delays and just by reducing or removing screen time, there has been improvement in their speech. Hence it is vital for parents to be aware of the need for providing the right stimulus at the right age, and be aware of the ill-effects of screen-time. Talking and reading to the child cannot be substituted by screens, even if they are educational!
Though screen-time can be used in a productive way for learning, educating ourselves and our children, it is important to know that overuse of anything good can never be good. Lets take a mundane example of food. Food is required for growth and nourishment, it’s a good thing . But we are all aware how overuse of food can lead to obesity and its dreaded ill-effects. So, just because you can afford and it is good, will you want to put a refrigerator stocked with food in your child’s bedroom? I certainly hope not. So for the same reason no TV, computer or any screen should be placed in your child’s bedroom. In my clinical practice I have come across 1 year olds who have their own iPhones!
So, how much screen-time is okay? According to American Academy of Pediatrics (Pediatrics 2013;132:958-961), screen-time should be totally discouraged below 2 years of age and restricted to a maximum to two hours, above 2 years!
So, what’s the remedy or Quickfix?
1) Restrict screen time to max 2 hours a day ASAP!
2) Set certain home rules like, no TV in bedrooms, no TV with dinner, avoid screen before bedtime
3) Be role models, as parents restrict your own screen use. Encourage and participate in non-screen activities like outdoor play and board games.
4) Monitor screen use in terms of number of hours a day, websites visited or browsed. Know your child’s friends and their screen use or preference.
5) It is not enough to be vigilant and keep saying “turn it off”. Be innovative! For example give “screen–tickets” of half an hour each, like movie tickets which can be cashed in as needed by your child in the entire day.
We need to learn and teach our children moderation and balance in life. To learn to use anything that comes our way appropriately, in its right place and amount and to discourage overuse.
“Mens sana in corpore sano”
It’s a Latin phrase which means “A healthy mind in a healthy body”.
So, what do we mean by a healthy mind? To me, it means a mind that is not only free of physical disease or mental stress but one that is balanced ,open and in tune with one’s own self.
In the recent years there has been a lot of research regarding brain and mind . There is ongoing awareness that our brain, which anatomically has two hemispheres the right and the left, though are structurally similar but functionally quite different from each other. The right brain develops early, is holistic, intuitional, creative, imaginative, responsible for nonverbal communication, emotions and feelings. The Left brain develops later, is linear, logical, literal, analytical, responsible for verbal communications and intelligence. The right brain is dominant at birth till 3 years of age. So now, you may notice how infants predominantly communicate with nonverbal cues, why a toddler is more intuitional, creative and has “imaginary friends”. By the time you reach 3years, the left brain comes in picture, that’s when the “why?” the most common question becomes. And by 6 years, most of us become left dominant, thanks to the traditional learning system at our homes and schools, which teaches us to use logic and reasoning. A healthy mind stems not only from a well-developed Left logical brain but it also needs a well-developed Right intuitive brain and more importantly it needs a good balance between the two.
One of the most important stimulus for brain development is, love. Hence the need for a loving, caring, secure and warm environment at home and schools. Art, music, creative thinking, sports, exercise along with analytical thinking provide positive stimulus for a developing brain. Journal or poetry writing, tuning into one’s own feelings are some other ways to balance the right and the left brain activities.
So now that we have a healthy mind how do we get a healthy body? The most common question asked by most parents is” How do I develop my child’s immunity and make him healthy?” And my usual answer is “There are no magical pills to do that. All you need is a good food, sleep and exercise”.
A well balanced nutritious diet which is well spaced with 3 good meals 1-2 fruit as snack with 2 cups of milk products is good for most growing kids. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, which is unfortunately usually skipped in the fast –pace life that we live in and very often substituted with high calorie junk, easy to eat food.
The old adage “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise” holds true even now. Sleep is the most essential period where our mind and body get to relax, unwind and detoxify. It’s the most crucial period for growth. Most kids need at least 8 to 10 hours of sleep per day.
Daily exercise for 1-2 hours in the form of running, skipping, cycling, swimming, dancing or any outdoor sports is essential for any growing child. It not only helps build physical strength, it helps to relieve mental stress and is also now known to create new brain cells and a healthy mind!
Dr. Meghna Manocha
MBBD, MD(American board of pediatrics)
Consultant pediatrician, Bangalore
Research team, Brighter Minds