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World Mental Health Day 2020: Excessive Screen Time Can Affect Kids' Mental Health

World Mental Health Day 2020: Children and young people need to be helped to make informed decisions about the screen time. It is important not to get into an oppositional relationship with the child about use of technology. Read here to know more.

World Mental Health Day 2020: Excessive Screen Time Can Affect Kids Mental Health

World Mental Health Day: Ensure that all screens are switched off for a period of time before sleeping

HIGHLIGHTS

  1. World Mental Health Day: Review your screen and technology habits
  2. Educate your child about benefits of judicious use of screen time
  3. Ensure access to age appropriate programming by doing things together

World Mental Health 2020: October 10 is observed as World Mental Health Day. COVID-19 has led to children and young people using their screens extensively. From education to entertainment to social interaction, all domains of life are determined by use of screens.

What is it doing to children and young people and how do we address this problem?

We know from previous research that children using more phones or tablets for more than 7 hours showed changes in their MRI images of the brain. The language and speech development of younger children were also affected significantly if they were online more than two hours a day. Anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances and Irritability have also been commonly seen and can be attributed to increased screen time. Even interactive screen time like texting, video conferencing and gaming can actually contribute to greater isolation, loneliness and lower threshold for boredom.


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Children using more phones or tablets for more than 7 hours showed changes in their MRI images of the brain
Photo Credit: iStock

Also read: World Mental Health Day 2020: How To Spot Depression In Others? Expert Shares Tips

However, screen time is the mainstay for access to education, health, leisure and relationships in present times. The solutions are not dichotomous. Children and young people need to be helped to make informed decisions about the screen time. It is important not to get into an oppositional relationship with the child about use of technology. There should be no blame attribution about using screens. If a behaviour has to be changed, the best way to change behaviour is by making the child feel empowered about the decision to do so. Criticism only leads to children blaming themselves and thus losing self- esteem.

Tips to curb screen time: The following steps may help

1. Review your screen and technology habits. Are you getting a fair mix of online and offline time? Are you able to create time for collaborative family activities? If not, restructure your time. Put a boundary around some time for the family to be together without using screens.

2. Educate your child about benefits of judicious use of screen time and the rationale for limiting it. A child or a young person's brain is likely to be more impulsive than that of an adult. Work with the child to make ground rules for screen usage. Self-discipline may be difficult for the child, but if clear expectations are set and joint decisions are taken, the child can learn to negotiate with you about the rules.

Also read: World Mental Health Day 2020: Know How Lack Of Sleep Affects You Mentally

3. Ensure access to age appropriate programming by doing things together online. Explore resources and content. Being with your child when they are online informs you about their viewing preferences and makes you aware of the risks they face.

4. Look out for early changes due to increased usage e.g., sleep disturbances, mood changes, withdrawal from every day activities and decreased attention. If the changes are appearing review usage of screens and seek help from mental health professionals or teachers.

5. Ensure supervised access to peers through social media. A specific time for being in contact with friends would be useful. One of the ground rules should be: one thing and one screen at a time. Messaging friends and responding to social media communication while attending classes or doing homework should be seen as an intrusion. The child should be helped to avoid this by agreeing a 'catch up with friends' time.

6. Encourage access to physical activity in a safe manner and involvement in day to day activities at home.

7. Ensure that all screens are switched off for a period of time before sleeping, while eating and while doing things together with the family.

Also read: Weight Loss: How Completing 10,000 Steps In A Day Can Benefit You, As Told By A Fitness Expert

Technology can be used to make education and learning fun, but it should not exclude interaction with the real world. The best way to learn Botany may be a visit to the local park wearing a mask, rather than doing a project by copying material from a Google. Sometimes a family playing games together on the rooftop may be more exciting than chasing an animated Ferrari.

Most online games are repetitive and reward certain behaviours in an unpredictable manner and thus give an unreal sense of mastery and success. The impact could be sometimes as addictive as gambling. Yet they cannot be seen as an 'evil 'which has to be exorcised from the child's life.

Children have learned to change their behaviour around fireworks. Children are leading climate change awareness. Perhaps if there made joint decision makers about online usage, together we would be able to evolve solutions for screen time usage. Remember, we are no better as adults when it comes to bingeing on Netflix.


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