The whole generation of kids these days is budding with smartphones, tablets, and other internet-facilitated gadgets. The advent of these devices has changed the dynamics of childhood. Kids are no more seen swinging in the parks as much as they are seen hooked to the phone screens. These along with games and social media have enhanced the screen time landscape drastically, leaving many parents worried and the experts wondering.
Excess screen time and poor tech habits, besides the risks of addiction, can lead to various problems in the body like bad posture, backaches, spondylosis, neck and shoulder strain, pain in wrists, eye strain, headaches, stress, physical fatigue, and compromised immunity.
We often witness kids lying on their couches with smartphones in their hands and eyes glued to the screens. Even while sitting, their backs are never straight nor their spines aligned. All these lead to kids complaining of back pains at very tender ages. Doctors highlight that they receive patients even in their teens with a stressed back or spondylosis. They say it’s high time we take note of the situation before it gets too late. Spondylosis refers to osteoarthritis that affects the spine.
The term is also used to describe other conditions related to spinal degeneration. Earlier this used to be a natural occurrence of age but now this is becoming more common in young age itself. While it’s not so serious, it can be quite painful and is likely to worsen as the person grows older. Spondylosis can affect any of the spine regions; cervical (neck), thoracic (upper, mid-back), lumbar (low back) or lumbosacral (low back/sacrum); however, it is more common in the neck and lower back. Long hours of phone’s usage in improper posture also cause stiffness. Poor posture, obesity, avoiding sports activities, and lack of exercise further enhance the problem.
Many studies, as well as brain scans, have found that kids with lots of screen time had a premature thinning of the cortex (the outermost layer of the brain that processes different types of information from the senses). Excessive screen timing is also believed to affect children’s academic performance and leaves an impact on their health, like increasing obesity, disrupting sleep, and initiating symptoms of depression. Hence, screen time affects children’s mental, physical as well as emotional development.
However, it cannot be denied that we’re raising a generation who lead device-driven lifestyles. While these devices are becoming more of necessities than luxuries, our children shouldn’t be inseparable from them. Health professionals suggest that over two hours of screen time is likely to affect kids’ brains.
Experts say kids from two to five years can use screen time to start learning, as long as they’re watching quality programming and playing with proven educational apps. Pediatricians, however, still recommend preschoolers to have no more than an hour of screen time during a day. According to pediatricians, there simply isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to kids’ media use: instead, it’s up to parents to set up a family media plan that resonates with the developmental level of their kids. Parents should aim to organize alternative physical activities by their kids’ age and set sensible limits for their children that makes screen time a part of their day and not all of their day.
TIPS for parents:
- Increase outdoor physical activities time for your children to let their minds get off the devices. Greenery has been found to be especially soothing.
- Reduce time spent unnecessarily on devices.
- Make sure they take five-minute vision breaks after every 30-40 minutes of device time. Also, the eye is at its most relaxed when it’s focusing at a distance of about 6m away.
- When not typing or using the hands, tell your kids to rest the arms, and perform some stretches.
- Set up the computer to suit your child’s height. Make sure the posture is proper. The computer screen should be at or slightly lower than eye level. The main source of light (e.g. window) should not shine straight in the face or onto the screen.
- Parents can also keep in mind to use an ergonomic chair that allows one’s spine to hold its natural curve. Your feet should rest flat on the floor (you can also use a footstool).
- Parents must ensure that their child is getting sufficient sleep at night.
- Teach kids about surroundings, to stay aware of the people and the happening around instead of just staying informed about the virtual world.
- Go on hiking, nature walks etc. together with your child.
(Writer is Dr. Jyothi Raghuram, Senior Consultant – Pediatrician, Columbia Asia Hospital Whitefield. Views expressed are a personal opinion.)