Childhood stuck to screen: How to tackle it
Nusrat Ahmed’s 12-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son watch TV while eating their food. If she turns the TV off, they grab phones. “And it goes on alternatively. They can’t stay without being glued to a screen.”
The mother of two living in Dhaka’s Pallabi sounded helpless as she described her worries over the children’s addiction to a smartphone, or to a screen to be precise, reports bdnews24.com.
Her daughter has her own phone, received as a gift from her uncle, although Nusrat had no plan to give the sixth grader a phone at this age. Her son stays engrossed in playing games or watching YouTube on Nusrat’s phone.
Although the daughter uses the phone only after completing her daily studies, Nusrat feels she is spending too much of her time on the phone.
Nearly 55.9 per cent, or more than half the children from the age group of 5 to 17 years, own a mobile phone, according to a primary report by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics. Also, around 30.7 percent of those children use the internet.
Is the number quite high in the current global context?
Data from Ofcom, the UK's communications regulator, show that the vast majority of children in the UK own a smartphone by the age of 11, with ownership rising from 44 percent at age nine to 91 percent at age 11. In the US, 37 per cent of parents of nine- to 11-year-olds say their child has their own smartphone. And in a European study across 19 countries, 80 percent of children aged nine to 16 reported using a smartphone to go online daily, or almost daily, BBC reports.
"By the time we get to older teens, over 90 percent of kids have a phone," Candice Odgers, professor of psychological science at the University of California, Irvine, in the US told BBC to explain the situation.
With the growing number of children using smartphones across the globe, parents wonder at what age they should start using a mobile phone or how much screen time is not harmful for children.
The World Health Organization is recommending children under age 5 spend one hour or less on digital devices daily and those under age 1 spend no time at all. WHO released its recommendations – WHO Guidelines on Physical Activity, Sedentary Behaviour and Sleep for Children under 5 Years of Age – in April.
Children stuck on TV or mobile phone. How to tackle this screen addiction?
For infants, less than 1 year of age, screen time is not recommended and no screen time for a 1-year-old. No more than an hour of screen time is recommended for 2-year-olds, with less time preferred, the WHO says. It recommends no more than one hour for 3- to 4-year-olds.
Leena Ferdous, who runs a preschool and daycare centre in Dhaka’s Uttara, wants to keep them away from any digital device to ensure children’s physical and mental development. She has been running Kidz Leadz Preschool, Day Care & Child Care Institute with this motto for the past 12 years.
It offers service to children aged between 18 months to five years. They can stay in the institution from morning to afternoon. Children aged up to 10 years can stay in the daycare centre. Mostly, working mothers leave their children at the daycare centre. The Kidz Leads tries to engage the children in different activities to keep them away from a device, said Leena.
“Some mothers have developed their children’s habit of watching TV while eating. When such a child comes to our place, initially we let them watch TV for 15 to 20 minutes. Mostly they watch programmes suitable for children like rhymes. Gradually the time to watch TV is reduced and then stopped totally,” Leena said.
Mabruka Twaha, a teacher living in Saudi Arabia, is quite aware about the screen time for her child.
“When we moved to Saudi Arabia, I didn’t get a TV at home. Before the pandemic, we never had Netflix or internet TV at home,” Mabruka said while giving bdnews24.com an idea about how much screen time her child is allowed.
“That time [during the pandemic] we were watching TV for some more time. Now we decide beforehand how much time he can watch. For example, he won’t have screen time in the morning these days, as he has school. He can watch TV for 15 minutes after coming back from school.”
Mabruka said she allowed her son to watch TV for an extra five minutes if he did well in class tests. Also, in the evening he is allowed to watch for 15 to 20 minutes after his tasks are done.
“We remain a bit flexible for the TV time in the evening but it never crosses half an hour.”
WHY SCREEN TIME SHOULD BE REDUCED?
Many parents say that their children do not eat without watching TV or mobile phones. This should not be done at all, said Leena.
“What happens then is the children do not realise the taste of the food. They don’t understand if they are eating salt or sugar or the taste of fish or vegetables as they are concentrating on something else.”
From her experience of running the daycare, Leena said many children born amid the pandemic are suffering from speech delay.
“The toddlers coming to our institution have a problem – they don’t speak. This could be caused by the parents remaining busy working online during their early years,” she said.
Children stuck on TV or mobile phone. How to tackle this screen addiction?
Dr Luna Parveen, resident medical officer of Dhaka Shishu Hospital, said children may face such problems due to screen addiction. But they do not refer to “speech delay” until the child crosses 2 years.
“We consider it as speech delay when a child cannot speak meaningful words after the age of two to two and a half years. Screen time means the child only watches and doesn’t speak. A child must be able to produce speech besides listening. It should be two-way communication.”
The paediatrician also highlighted the health risks caused by children having too much screen time. "It causes sleep disorders which make children cranky. The tenderness of a child's mind is hampered if they watch violent content," she said.
Nusrat Ahmed said her children used to be irritated to attend online classes during the pandemic when they had to put on earphones for a long time. She also felt the social skills of her children fell short after the prolonged use of mobile phones.
"Looking at the screen for a long time has a negative impact on their eyes as well. They suffer from headaches. If we visit some place, the first thing they ask for is a phone. I tried to teach them social manners and meet the guests visiting us at home, like we used to do in our childhood. Even then I feel they're becoming self-centred due to using mobile phones."
Screen addiction can be a disease sometimes, said Associate Professor Mekhla Sarkar of the National Institute of Mental Health and Hospital.
The American Psychiatric Association published the fifth edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders where they included “internet gaming disorder” as a mental disease.
When children, adolescents or even adults feel compelled to use screens and keep increasing the use while ignoring self care, work, socialisation and relationships, it can be called addiction, Mekhla Sarkar explained.
WHAT DOES FOREIGN RESEARCH SAY?
Amy Orben, an experimental psychologist at the University of Cambridge, UK, and her colleagues published a research paper last year where they found "windows of developmental sensitivity" – where social media use is associated with a later period of lower life satisfaction – at specific ages during adolescence.
Analysing data from over 17,000 participants aged between 10 and 21, the researchers found that higher use of social media at ages 11 to 13 for girls, and 14 to 15 for boys, predicted lower life satisfaction a year later. The reverse was also true: lower social media use at this age predicted higher life satisfaction the following year.
"Being a teenager is a really a major time of development," says Orben. "You're much more impacted by your peers, you're much more interested in what other people think about you. And the design of social media – the way that it provides social contact and feedback on, more or less, a click of a button – might be more stressful at certain times."
Although worried about her children's habit of using a screen, Nusrat believes they can learn something positive from it.
“My daughter could already draw, but she learned more from the internet during the pandemic and drew very nice pictures. She learned many other things from the internet or watching YouTube on her phone."
While smartphones are often blamed for children spending less time outdoors, a Danish study of 11- to 15-year-olds found some evidence that phones actually give children independent mobility by increasing parents' sense of security and helping to navigate unfamiliar surroundings. Children said phones enhanced their experience outside through listening to music, and keeping in touch with parents and friends.
For some young people, a phone can become a lifeline – somewhere to find a new form of access and social networking as a person with a disability, or a place to search for answers to pressing questions about your health, BBC writes.
For many parents, buying a child a phone is a practical decision. "In a lot of cases, parents are the ones that want the younger children to have phones so that they can keep in touch throughout the day, they can coordinate pickups," said Prof Odgers of the University of California.
It can also be seen as a milestone on the road to adulthood. "I think for children it gives them a sense of independence and responsibility," says Anja Stevic, researcher in the department of communication at the University of Vienna, Austria.
"This is definitely something that parents should consider: are their children at a stage where they are responsible enough to have their own device?"
WHY IS THIS ADDICTION?
A European report into digital technology use among children from birth to eight years old found that children develop an addiction to screens or technology by watching their parents doing it.
Parents in Bangladesh make the ‘same mistake’ which lead children to become screen addicts, believe Mabruka Twaha, mother of an eight-year-old living abroad.
Nusrat Ahmed, however, said that her children developed the habit of watching TV or using mobile phones furthermore when they were confined within the four walls amid the pandemic.
“They couldn’t go out, play or socialise. They used to spend time using apps, gadgets, mobile phones or watching TV.”
Like other parents in Dhaka, Nusrat does not feel comfortable leaving her children alone outside the home. This was another reason to allow the children to use devices.
“As a child, we used to go outside home in the evening and meet our friends. These children don’t have that time or space or even security to do so.”
Dr Luna Parveen substantiated Nusrat’s thought saying lack of extended family and increase of the families with both parents working are making the children more prone to use screens.
WHAT TO DO?
Screen time has become near-universal among children and it is a modern dilemma, BBC writes. But the parents should focus on their own habit of using it before they place any condition on their children.
When setting house rules for smartphone use – such as not keeping the phone in a child's bedroom overnight – parents also need to take an honest look at their own smartphone use, said Sonia Livingstone, professor of social psychology at the London School of Economics, UK, and co-author of the book Parenting for a Digital Future.
"Children hate hypocrisy," says Livingstone. "They hate feeling they're being told off for something that their parents do, like using the phone at mealtimes or going to bed with a phone."
Expatriate Mabruka plans and coordinates her own screen time with her son. She tries to use her mobile phone when her son goes to sleep. Besides this, she tries to engage her 8-year-old in different activities.
“We watch a movie on Thursdays or Fridays. I like to read and my son reads as well. But it’s quite expensive in Saudi Arabia to buy books to read. So I take my son to bookstores and we read there for three to four hours.”
She said they also listen to radio or audio materials, especially at bedtime. Besides watering plants in the kitchen garden, Mabruka also engages her son in household chores like making breakfast, tidying the room or cleaning the toilet. “It is important to teach children life skills.”
Children may get exposed to inappropriate material when they use the internet, so Nusrat tries to monitor them, she said.
“Our PC is connected with the TV at home. When my son uses the computer, I can watch what he is doing on the TV screen. If he uses the phone, I go and sit with him sometimes. They watch 5-Minute Crafts mostly. My son likes to play games on mobile.”
“I speak openly with my children and tell them that [the internet] has both good and bad stuff. ‘You’ll learn something positive if you follow the good stuff’,” Nusrat said.
Rather than showing TV, parents can sing to their children while feeding, said Dr Luna Parveen. She said the child must be hungry before they can eat. It is better to let small children sit next to the adults at home while eating so they grow interest in eating.
After taking all possible measures, medical treatment is needed if someone has too much addiction to screen, said mental disease specialist Mekhla. This disorder should be treated in the same manner drug addicts are treated, she said.
“If the patient reacts a lot and vandalises their surroundings when the family can’t control it, they should be admitted to the hospital.”
Besides controlling the use of mobile phones, parents must take care of the mental needs of their children and fulfil those, she recommended.
”Children must develop responsibility according to their age. Only then will we succeed in preventing screen addiction.”