How to deal with smartphone addiction in children

Malem Elangbam*

July 31 marks the day the first mobile call was made in India. This took place on July 31, 1995 and the call was made by the then West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu to Union Communications Minister Sukh Ram.

The first mobile call in India was made using Nokia handsets. The network was Modi Telstraís MobileNet Service which was joint venture between Indiaís BK Modi group and Australiaís Telstra. The mobile call was made between two locations-Calcutta (now Kolkata) and New Delhi. More specifically, it took place in the Writerís building in Calcutta and in Delhiís Sanchar Bhavan.

In the last 27 years of mobility of mobile phone in India, India entered into an online era and keeping children away from a screen is a huge task for parents. During the Covid lockdowns, we experienced a dependency of mobile phones /laptops/tablets as a learning platform. How much parents can monitor the activity of children using smart phones during lockdowns ? Nevertheless, parents have also to find survival ways, bread and butter to feed themselves in those hard times.

Covid gave a strong impact on mobile phone addiction in children and even adults during lockdowns when everybody felt safe staying indoors with mobile phones. Internet is an essential platform to find, learn anything but addiction can derail life and can leave a critical impact on the childís physical and mental development. Use of media recklessly can lead to harmful tendencies in children.

Unpleasant Effects of Smartphone

Recent studies show teens spend about 9 hours a day in front of screens while children (8-12) spend 6 hours. The effects of smart phones on children are injurious. Excessive use of smart phones in children can cause nervous system disorders, behavioural problems, addiction, depression, sleep disturbances, delay in social development, attention and hearing issues, overweight/Obesity, withdrawal symptoms including low appetite and temper tantrums.

Creative ways to break Smartphone addiction in children

1. Break time : Children have a lot of energy and it should be invested effectively. We should make sure our children do something active and frequently. Engage them in plays/games they have most interest. Encourage them to be active. Itís important to break screen time by other effective ways.

2. Prioritize things : Letís ensure the child finishes homework, study, housework before they get on the mobile device. This helps in setting the priorities straight right from a young age.

3. Create a media plan : The best way to curb the unrestricted consumption of media is to prepare a formal family media plan. This may be a systematic approach to help our child to use media responsibly right from the very beginning.

4. Smartphone as reward or distraction: Smartphone has a huge potential to be of great educational value to children. Total abstinence from it isnít advisable. Moderation is the key here. Many parents leverage screen time to encourage children to study/do homework/do house chores but this could lead to more harm than good. Beware of using the smart phone as a distraction or a reward as this can have ill effects on the children.

5. Engage them in activity based learning : Children use phones for fun and entertainment purposes. Children love challenges. Mobile games are attractive as they pose challenges at every new level. By engaging children in activity-based learning, they can gain knowledge while having fun.

6. Maintain a strict smart phone schedule: Setting adequate time allows parents to keep track and restrict the amount of time spent on gadgets and avoid unnecessary usage of the smart phone. By introducing a schedule, parents can improve the habit of routine which prevents the child from spending more time on screen. Smart phones have now become an inseparable part of our lives and it is difficult to keep them away from children. Therefore, letís make our child understand that he/she can use the smartphone only for a limited time.

Things to keep in mind- (a) Limited usage of the phone when child is around (b) No Phones during mealtime (c) No TV or phone before sleep (d) Donít give in to the unreasonable demand of our child.

7. Bonding : These days parents lead very busy lives and the time they get to spend with their children becomes limited. Therefore, it is important to take the time out for bonding activities with children. Playing board games or engaging our child in activities like cleaning, cooking or gardening will keep them away from smartphones. Encourage child to pursue hobbies such as listening to music, playing an instrument, reading, or painting. Spend our weekends doing fun family activities like swimming, playing games, watching movies, etc.

8. Active supervision: Children donít pay much attention to screen brightness and screen distance from their eye when theyíre involved deeply in the online world. Active supervision is needed to help the child maintain proper posture while providing an excellent opportunity to co-engage with our children when they are using the screen. This encourages social interactions, bonding, and learning. Interact with them while monitoring to understand what they are doing and help them overcome any challenges they are facing.

9. Encourage playtime: Physical play stimulates the brain. Activities that involve physical movements allow children to use their energy and give children the chance to develop fine motor skills, learn new things and socialize. It hugely benefits the physical and mental health of a child.

10. Say no to technology as an emotional pacifier: Most parents use gadgets to distract children while feeding, dressing up, and travelling. Yes, media can be beneficial in keeping children calm, but it should not be the only way to calm them down. It is the duty of parents to help their child identify and handle strong emotions, come up with activities to manage boredom, open communication to solve the problem.

11. Encourage face-to-face communication : Studies show the two-way communication with children improves language development much more effectively than passive listening or one-way interaction with a screen. Parents should schedule proper time for face-to-face communication or video calls with far-away parents and grandparents to facilitate effective communication skills.

12. Communicate with our child: Humans are visual creatures. The vibrant colors and animations appearing on the smartphone screen appeal greatly to children. So parents must make their children aware of the harmful effects of mobile phone use on health. Educate our children by showing various videos on the adverse effects of smartphone usage.

13. Set passwords: Letís face it, it is not always possible for us to be around our child and monitor them. In situations like these, technology itself can come to our rescue. Set a phone password to avoid the usage of the phone by children in our absence.

14. Be a great role model: Children learn more from our actions than our words. They are great observers, and they mimic the habits of parents. It is important to form strict rules in place to abide by.

Restricting our smartphone usage time allows us extra time to spend with our child. These interactions with our children are crucial in creating a strong parent-child relationship, the value of which is often underestimated.

Many parents spend most of their time on their smartphones but they tell their children not to use smartphone. In these cases, children are bound to follow in their parentís footsteps. Follow what you preach. Letís be a good role model for our children by limiting our smartphone usage. Letís find more time to spend with our children by interacting, hugging, playing with them rather than just staring at a screen.

How to protect children from Smartphone

Along with the above-mentioned ways to keep our children away from the mobile phones, we can also take care of the following points to protect them from the harmful effects of mobile phone radiation.

- Low radiation level: With the use of smart phones becoming frequent, it is better to buy one with a low Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) value. The SAR value states the amount of radiation absorbed per kilogram of body tissue. SAR value can be checked by dialing *#07#. In India, the maximum SAR level allowed is 1.6 W/kg.

-Avoid Smartphone use while travelling: Letís keep Smart phone away from our children while driving, travelling in a moving vehicle or train. A mobile phone in a moving vehicle keeps scanning for the signal and, in the process, emits more radiation which is very harmful to children.

Like every device out there, smartphones have pros and cons too. They can be educational as well as detrimental. Studies show that, face-to-face time with family, children, and friends has a significant impact on childrenís healthy development.

As adults do not let child get lost in a stream of media and technology. Letting our children play with mobile devices and earning a little well-earned rest is fine, as long they donít get addicted and use mobile phones sensibly, and find the balance between real life and cell phone.

* Malem Elangbam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on 08 January 2023

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