In our modern age, a big chunk of our day is dedicated to exploring the vast sea of the internet or catching up on the latest videos. You’ve probably come across headlines about people attempting daring stunts live, some of which sadly result in accidents. What’s intriguing is how even the littlest ones, around 3 or 4 years old, are already so familiar with phones that they perk up and pay attention whenever their parents mention the magical word “phone.”
Lost in Screens: The Unseen Consequences
Kids watch screens mostly for fun during their free time. The amount of screen time varies, with middle-income countries ranging from 21% to 98%, and high-income countries from 10% to 93.7%. Little ones using screens too much can face problems like delayed language skills, ADHD, and anxiety. Quite surprising. Instead of running around in fields or playing with friends, kids, especially those up to 14 and 16 years old, are glued to their phones. COVID made things worse by keeping them indoors, missing out on immune-boosting playtime. Plus, their focus on studies and school is taking a hit. And here’s a biggie—relationships are suffering because everyone is so engrossed in their phones, leading to less face-to-face interaction.
Remember, spending too much time in front of your TV, laptop, or phone might not be great for your health. It turns out, that the blue light coming from these devices can mess with different cells in your body, like those in your skin, fat, and even your sensory neurons. This light can throw off important chemicals in your cells, such as succinate and glutamate, making your cells work less effectively and potentially speeding up the aging process. Also, excessive screen time is linked to sedentary behaviors, non-communicable diseases, and health risks.
Ways to Manage Screen Time and Break Free from Phones
Define clear limits: Set specific time constraints for using screens daily and adhere to them consistently.
Establish Phone-Free Spaces: Designate specific places or moments, such as mealtime or the bedroom, as zones without technology to enhance concentration and connection.
Use Apps for Regulation: Explore applications that aid in monitoring and regulating your screen time, enabling you to set reminders and restrictions.
Plan Regular Screen Breaks: Purposefully schedule pauses from screen time during the day to relax your eyes and rejuvenate your mind. Prolonged phone use may result in digital eye strain or dry eyes. Applying an eye moisturizer is recommended. Under-eye dark circles can be attributed to eye dryness caused by continuous phone use.
For those in the workforce, it’s recommended to adhere to the 20-20-20 rule or take short breaks of 5-10 minutes every half-hour instead of remaining seated continuously.
Explore Non-Digital Hobbies: Rediscover screen-free activities like reading, painting, or outdoor hobbies. Despite a decline in physical book consumption, it’s recommended to read actual books, particularly before bedtime, for better sleep quality and to combat insomnia.
Highlight Real-Life Connections: Put importance on spending quality time with friends and family in person, nurturing and strengthening genuine connections.
Tech-Free Day: Allocate one day each week to reduce or entirely abstain from using screens, providing your mind and body with a much-needed respite.
Discover the Outdoors: Engage in outdoor activities like strolling in the park, hiking, or simply immersing yourself in nature to counterbalance the technology-dominated facets of life.
9. Set a Curfew: Create a nightly routine to put away electronic devices, ensuring better sleep and overall well-being. Follow AAP guidelines: no screens for kids under two, and ≤1 hour/day for 2-5-year-olds. Parents should oversee kids’ social media, guiding them on safety, security, and pros/cons, emphasizing avoiding strangers and preventing cyberbullying. Find easy ways to monitor and limit gadget use.
Embrace Mindful Living: Integrate mindfulness practices like meditation or yoga into your routine to foster a harmonious balance between screen time and mental well-being.
Breaking our phone addiction can lead to a better life for us and our loved ones. As modern parents and pediatricians, we recognize the positive role of social media in fostering connections and well-being. However, we’re also mindful of its negatives, like bullying and privacy concerns. Let’s swap harmful habits, and find a balance for a happier, healthier lifestyle!
Dr Rajath Athreya, Senior Consultant and HOD Paediatrics and Neonatology, Sakra World Hospital, Bengaluru