Worried that your child is spending a lot of time using phones or playing games online? You are not alone! Around 47% of parents believe that their child is addicted to smartphones. 52% of the teens surveyed sit with their smartphones for more extended periods than hanging out with friends.
Children’s addiction towards gadgets of any kind is a widespread problem for parents world-wide. Countries like the United States, Korea, Indonesia, etc. have studies affirming the alarming rate of gadget addiction among children and their negative consequences.
The negative impact includes decreasing cognitive skills like attentional and memory issues, academic skills, increased aggression, perceptual problems, and anti-social behavioral patterns. Figure 1 summarizes the negative consequences of gadget addiction on children.
From the previous blog on technology, we are already familiar with the close relationship that children and technology share. We not only acquainted ourselves with the negative effects of technology on children but also observed how we, as adults, catalyze this relationship by providing easy access of electronic gadgets to our children. One may argue that children’s exposure to technology has now become a necessity more than luxury. From education to entertainment, almost everything has shifted online, especially now.
The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic brought about major changes in our lifestyles. Children are also equally affected by this pandemic. Children like a disciplined life, more specifically a routine-oriented life: Get up, get ready for school, have breakfast and run for the school bus, come back, go out to play with friends, complete homework, have dinner, and sleep. Almost all children more-or-less followed this pattern. One day, they all woke up and found themselves in the middle of a pandemic. Schools shut and playgrounds closed. What can be a replacement of this lifestyle? Gadgets: the superfast world of virtual reality.
I was interviewing some parents regarding their overall experiences of the pandemic. I got a unanimous response that maintaining work-life balance and children was a task, and so they kept the children busy with gadgets whenever possible. Some parents did not have the time to keep a limit on their children’s screen time. Parents were exhausted with simultaneously working from and for home. Even though online schooling helped in keeping the children busy, some parents complained on its inefficacy in making their children academically proactive. The child would just use a laptop or a tab, first for school, and then for non-stop entertainment. These responses made me realize the caregiver’s or the parent’s quintessential role in children’s addiction towards gadgets.
Technology has a significant impact on children’s lifestyles and daily activities, especially now. More than entertainment, using a gadget has become more trending in the light of education. Online learning platforms and related applications are the most significant proof that gadgets have become the source of not only information and entertainment (infotainment) but also formal education.
Gadget addiction among children during the COVID crisis is definitely a cause of concern. Mental health professionals around the globe are researching this issue and have gained some unsettling results. For example, a study called ‘The World Unplugged Project’ (2010) consisting of 1000 children, revealed withdrawal symptoms (from gadgets) in 50% of the participants. Most children failed to stay away from gadgets for 24 hours and showed signs of restlessness, irritating behavior, appetite loss, etc. This is a prevalent scenario. You may also know a child who throws tantrums or becomes aggressive because of restrictions imposed on their gadget usage. Aggressive behavior, restlessness, irritation, decreased social interactions, and lack of concentration and attention are prominent signs of addiction.
At the same time, we should not blame our children for their addiction. Children today are fast and smart learners. They learn to operate gadgets from a very young age since most parents use those gadgets at home. Moreover, some may also use gadgets to stop a baby from crying or during meal hours. Visually engaging and stimulating contents attract children’s attention. Hence, they become easily hooked onto these gadgets----- be it watching videos, playing games, or connecting virtually with friends over social media. As adults, it is evident that even we are addicted to our smartphones, however, the impact on children is highly visible and intense.
Figure 1: Negative consequences of gadget addiction
While technology and gadgets have replaced playing outside with friends, as caregivers how can you intervene?
Getting children off this gadget dependency is challenging but not impossible.
Set an example: Start with detoxifying your own gadget requirements. Leave your phones and laptops for a few hours every day and utilize this time with your family. Let the children see you having fun without any gadgets around.
Alter your routine: Engage in hobbies and involve in activities that do not require any gadgets. Make sure that the free time in your day is not equivalent to the screen time. Do extracurricular activities together with your children.
Learn in traditional ways: Most children have difficulties reading and writing as they are heavily exposed to learning from online educational websites and applications. Encourage your children to read books and explore answers to their projects in non-digital ways. Make sure that they ask you for an answer and not Google!
Encourage going outdoors: This may seem difficult due to the COVID-19 restrictions, but you can always go to the balcony or the terrace and get some fresh air. Allot a separate time where you and your children go to the balcony or the terrace and bond over childhood stories, for example. Motivate your child to go out and play after the COVID crisis gets over. You may also enroll your children in any sport-related coaching classes or other outdoor activities.
Start activity-based learning: Before gadgets came in our lives, there were traditional games that improved children’s cognitive skills. For example, chess is known to enhance memory, IQ levels, concentration, and problem-solving skills. Similarly, jigsaw puzzles improve our visuospatial perception (identifying and analyzing space and visual forms). Teach such games to your children and bring back the essence of cognitive development through non-digital channels.
We all know that the development of both mind and body is essential, especially during the early years. However, personality development, including communication and social skills, is also necessary for a child’s overall development. Addiction to gadgets can not only adversely affect a child psychologically but also physically. For example, prolonged exposure to screens can cause eye irritations, or sitting in one posture continuously can affect the spine and cause back and shoulder problems.
While the world is exposed to the new-age technology essential for growth, one should also promote children’s natural evolution. Our responsibility is to assist our children in accepting the safe and limited use of gadgets in this technology-dominated era.
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