In today’s online era keeping children away from a screen is a huge challenge for parents. However, media also use is not without benefit. Smartphones/tablets are becoming essential tools of learning for children nowadays. While there are many pros to the online world it is highly addictive and might leave an unfavourable impact on the child’s development. Irresponsible use of media can lead to harmful tendencies in children.
Adverse effects of smartphone
According to studies teens spend about 9 hours a day in front of screens while children (8-12) spend 6 hours. The effects of smartphones on children are detrimental. Here’s a list of side effects of excessive use of smartphones in children:
- Behavioural problems
- Sleep disturbances
- Delay in social development
- Attention and hearing issues
- Problems of the nervous system
It is a daunting task to keep your children away from gadgets, it may result in withdrawal symptoms including low appetite and temper tantrums.
Here are 14 creative ways to break your child’s smartphone addiction:
- Break time: Kids have a lot of energy and it should be invested effectively. Make sure your kids do something active frequently. Indulge them in mini strolls and stretching exercises every 30 mins. Bodies need to move and habits form young. Encourage them to be active. It’s important to break up screen time and move around.
- Prioritize other things: Ensure your child finishes homework, studying, housework before they get on the mobile device. This helps in setting the priorities straight right from a young age.
- Create a media plan: The best way to curb the unrestricted consumption of media is to prepare a formal family media plan. This is a systematic approach to help your child use media responsibly right from the very beginning.
- Do not use Smartphone as reward or Distraction: Smartphone has a huge potential to be of great educational value to children. Total abstinence from it isn’t 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 smartphone as a distraction or a reward as this can have ill effects on the children.
- Indulge them in activity-based learning: Kids use phones for fun and entertainment purposes. Kids love challenges. Mobile games are attractive as they pose challenges at every new level. By engaging kids in activity-based learning, they can gain knowledge while having fun.
- Maintain a strict smartphone schedule: Setting adequate time allows parents to keep track and restrict the amount of time spending on gadgets and avoid unnecessary usage of the smartphone. By introducing a schedule, parents can improve the habit of routine which prevents the child from spending more time on screen. Smartphones have now become an inseparable part of our lives and it is difficult to keep them away from children. Therefore, make your child understand that he/she can use your smartphone only for a limited time. Other things to keep in mind:
- Limited usage of the phone when your child is around
- No Phones during mealtime
- No TV or phone before sleep
- Don’t give in to the unreasonable demand of your child
- Bond with your child: 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 your child in activities like cleaning, cooking or gardening will keep her away from smartphones. Encourage your child to pursue hobbies such as listening to music, playing an instrument, reading, or painting. Spend your weekends doing fun family activities like swimming, playing games, watching movies, etc.
- Active supervision: Kids don’t pay much attention to their posture, screen brightness, and screen distance from their eye when they’re 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 your 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.
- 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 gross and fine motor skills, learn new things and socialize. It hugely benefits the physical and mental health of a child.
- 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 kids calm and entirely, 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.
- 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.
- Communicate with your child: Humans are visual creatures. The vibrant colours 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 your children by showing various videos on the adverse effects of smartphone usage.
- Set passwords: Let’s face it, it is not always possible for you to be around your child and monitor them. In situations like these, technology itself can come to your rescue. Set a password on your phone to avoid the usage of the phone by your child in your absence.
- Be a great role model: Children learn more from your actions than your 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 your smartphone usage time allows you extra time to spend with your child. These interactions with your child 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 tell their children not to use them. In these cases, children are bound to follow in their parents’ footsteps. Follow what you preach. Be a good role model for your child by limiting your smartphone usage. Find more time to spend with your children by interacting, hugging, playing with them rather than just staring at a screen.
How to protect kids from smartphone
Along with the above-mentioned ways to keep your child away from the mobile phone, you can also take care of the following points to protect him from the harmful effects of mobile phone radiation.
- Use a mobile phone with a low radiation level: With the use of smartphones 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: Keep your smartphone away from your child while travelling in a moving vehicle, like a car, bus 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 the child.
Like every device out there, smartphones have pros and cons too. They can be educational as well as detrimental. Research has shown that face-to-face time with family, children, and friends has a significant impact on children’s healthy development. As adults do not let your child get lost in a stream of media and technology. Letting your kids play with mobile devices and earning a little well-earned rest is fine, as long they don’t get addicted and use mobile phones sensibly, and find the balance between real life and cell phone addiction.
Dr. Bela Doctor | Senior Consultant – Paediatrics | SRCC Children’s Hospital, Mumbai