Excessive screen time negatively impacts  child development and family well-being

Andile Tshuma, [email protected] 

When was the last time you had a wholesome conversation as a family, about whatever subject, or as a couple, friends or even colleagues?

 We live in an era where we arrange meet ups and reunions just so we can pause for pictures for content and go back to our online lives, only to pause, create more content and share about our fragmented yet picture perfect existence. 

Letting your baby play with a phone or tablet may seem like a simple and                              harmless way to keep them occupied, but new research shows it could slow their development, or even worse, cause addictive patterns. 

Following a trending video of a parent failing to calm a child whose phone had been taken away from him this past week, the topic of digital dependence among the young and old has been trending.

The video was disturbing; the poor child had a serious meltdown and was rolling on the floor uncontrollably before starting to break objects in the house. 

Actually, it was scary as we are talking of a primary school child.

What is even more scary is the fact that the child and his family do not exist in a vacuum.

 That scenario was a depiction of the situation in many homes. Children have become digital addicts and many parents are helpless about the situation. 

Most parents would give in to the demands and let the child have his way with the gadget, but at what cost?

Excessive screen usage can lead to problems in social-emotional development, including obesity, sleep disturbances, depression, and anxiety. 

It can impair emotional comprehension, promote aggressive behaviour, and hinder social and emotional competence.

Parents play a crucial role in managing and reducing screen time by raising awareness, setting boundaries, and providing behavioural controls. 

Parental limitations and the absence of screens in bedrooms have been found to significantly reduce screen usage. 

Parents should also set an example by managing their own screen time.

 Overall, it is important for caregivers, educators, and healthcare professionals to understand the potential risks of excessive screen usage and implement strategies to promote healthy development in children, including alternative activities that foster cognitive, linguistic, and social-emotional skills.

The problem is not necessarily the phones or that we have become addicted to them, but our mindless usage of the device.

Our phones have taken over much of the greater part of our lives. Tapping away on our mobile devices every                                                                                                          hour of our awake moments, even tapping away in the dead of the night after a trip to the loo, has become normal, but is it?

How many times have you given your child your phone to escape those draining and exhausting tantrums?

 Do you know of any better way to soothe your child’s screams and screeches other than giving them a gadget?

If not then you are guilty, too. We may not realise it, but the majority of urban children have become digital addicts, just like their parents.

It is not a crime to allow your child to indulge in these gadgets once in a while, especially if you also need that well deserved break as a parent or care giver.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other organisations/studies have indicated that parental restrictions on screen time and the absence of screens in bedrooms both significantly lower screen time. 

Ideal discretionary screen time limits are 0.5-one hour per day for three to seven-year-olds, one hour for seven to 12-year-olds, 1.5 hours for 12 to 15-year-olds, and two hours for 16+-year-olds.

 Role modelling is also another crucial element.

The amount of screen time parents and children watch is closely associated; children who live in homes where watching TV is encouraged (e.g., meals eaten in front of the TV and the TV is on when the child gets home from school) are more likely to engage in binge-watching themselves.

We increasingly rely on our phones to be a personal assistant, providing directions, reminding us of birthdays, handling our banking needs, the list is endless.

We are living in a world where everything is mechanised and fast moving. 

We move on with the latest trends and adapt to the technologies. Today, the world is being ruled by different gadgets without which our lives are incomplete.

 These days, even children choose gadgets over toys. 

Most parents use mobile phones to engage their children, while feeding them or when they become restless. 

In their busy schedule, parents                                                 find mobile phones and other gadgets                                                        as the best option to let their children engage with.

But how many of them are aware of the bad effects of these gadgets when their children are exposed to them beyond limit?

Excessive screen media usage in children can have both positive and negative impacts on their development. 

Regarding cognitive development, screens have the potential to enhance education and learning. 

However, studies have shown that excessive screen time and media multitasking can negatively affect executive functioning, sensorimotor development and academic outcomes.

Early screen exposure has been associated with lower cognitive abilities and academic performance in later years. 

Language development is also affected by screen time, as it diminishes the quantity and quality of interactions between children and caregivers.

We cannot leave behind these gadgets considering only their perilous effects, since they are changing the world.

 Mobile phones, computers, tablets, and other electronic gadgets exist for communication as well as entertainment that are necessities for our normal lives.

Smart devices are sometimes empowering. They put a world of information at our fingertips. 

They free people to work from home avoiding the hectic morning rush.

Every family is different. 

What works for one may not work for the other, therefore there can never be one rule book on how families                                       must raise a child and how much of digital access is too much.

 However, it is important for adults to remember that children are in their formative years and “monkey see, monkey do”. -@andile_tshuma

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