Photo Courtesy: Anil Raghuvanshi
With the easy access to mobile phones children and young people in Nepal regularly use social media. And many also play games on computers and mobile devices. The Internet is a wonderful gift of science. It helps children and young people to learn new things, express themselves openly and to communicate easily with their friends and relatives.
The Internet is a portable, open and almost free library, which can be accessed at any time and from almost any place. Children can read online books, watch videos and learn about the world for free. Moreover, teachers often set homework which requires students to use the Internet for research. Social media apps like Facebook or Instagram can be a fun way for young people to interact with their friends. Likewise, computer games can be a fun way to unwind. According to Dr Peter Gray, professor of psychology at Boston College, videogames can help to improve a child’s decision-making skills and eye-hand coordination.
Yet, as with everything children need to be guided with all of these platforms. Parents tell children not to eat too many sweets so that they do not get a stomach-ache and have too much of a good thing. It is the same with technology. Overuse of games and social media combined with a lack of guidance from parents can have physical and mental consequences on a child’s development. This can also make them more vulnerable to interaction with online groomers, bullying and phishing. However, there are actions that parents can take to protect their children from the darker side of web as per Anil Raghuvanshi President of Child Safe Net.
Too much time in front of a screen can harm a child’s mental and physical well-being. Therefore it is very important to limit the amount of time that children use their devices.
Problems that arise can include:
• Not enough physical activity: Physical exercise helps to keep a child’s heart, lungs and mental well-being healthy. It can also help them to learn about teamwork and improve confidence.
• Eye strain: Blurry vision, headaches, dry, watery or itchy eyes and light sensitivity.
• Reduced sleep: Staring into screens before bedtime will keep a child’s brain activated. This may affect their sleeping patterns and therefore their physical and cognitive development.
• Isolation: Even if children are talking to friends online, children may be missing out on the benefits of interacting and spending time with people outside the world beyond their screens. This may cause them to feel lonely, sad and anxious.
How parents can help children to reduce their screen time
The American Academy of Paediatrics states that children under the age of eighteen months should avoid screen time all together, except for video calling.
Although devices can keep a toddler occupied so that parents can cook dinner or do some other work, it is better to give a toy or a book to young children. Offline activities like reading or playing games help children to acquire new skills and become less dependent on devices for entertainment. Most importantly, parents should manage their own screen time and spend quality time with their children. In May 2019, an American news report, ‘Screen Time, Diane Sawyer Reporting’ on ABC news revealed that adults unlock their phones 80 times a day and spend 49 days a year looking at mobile devices.
Both younger and older children can notice their parents often using their phones and may feel irritated, lonely and lacking in attention. Parents should lead by example and practice what they preach as children tend to do what they see rather than what they are told.
To conclude, it is clear that there are many benefits to living in the ‘digital age’. Yet it is also important to remember that children should also enjoy the world beyond their screens and can benefit from less screen time. Moreover, parents have an important role in developing their children's healthy online habits early on.