Corona Virus Pandemic has changed our lives dramatically in a number of ways. The screen time has surged up drastically during the #StayHome phase with city people in some places reporting it to be as high as 16 hours a day!
So what is Screen Time?
Every single minute we spend staring at the screen of any digital technology product is counted as Screen Time. It includes checking emails or watching movies or social media browsing and chatting with friends on Instagram or Whatsapp. Our mobile phone is our assistant, sounding board, secret-keeper and no less than a best friend. Such is its importance in our life that it goes to bed with us and it is the first thing we look at upon getting up. Some researchers have compared the increased screen time to have an abnormal impact as severe as drug addiction. All this is enough to create anxiety, especially for parents who are worried about increased screen time for their kids.
The obvious questions that arise in our minds – is excessive screen time harmful in any way in the short or the long run? Does it increase the chances of depression? Does it cut down the chances of kids having physical interactions? Are kids having excessive screen time more prone to develop obesity, sleep disorders, and other sinister metabolic problems in the long run? Does it have an abnormal impact on a child’s vision and brain development?
The whys and hows of screen time impacts are presented in a nut-shell-
The Good part of Screen indulgence:
All screen time is not bad. Digital technologies have proved to be a blessing by allowing people to work from home and earn their livelihood. We must also appreciate the role of digital media in encouraging online learning. Our kids are taking classes online and continuing the tradition of learning even when the schools are closed. During the lockdown, mobile applications and online ordering facilities have helped people receive essentials and groceries at their doorsteps. Arogya Setu App by the Government of India has been one of the right information tools in this era of rumor-mongering and misinformation. Many patients have been able to manage their medical problems with the use of video calling and telemedicine during this extra-ordinary phase. In fact, Telemedicine as a whole, if used properly and selectively has the potential to improve access for patients and get them the best of medical opinion from experts in any part of the country from the comfort of their homes. This not only facilitates medical treatments especially in remote places of the country but also reduces the total cost of treatment and potentially improves outcomes.
The Bad part of Screen Indulgence:
Being digital-savvy is good; the problem arises when people start using digital media for unproductive activities. Too much screen time inculcates a sedentary lifestyle leading to obesity. Often young ones are seen playing games on a mobile phone rather than in the open field. Sleep disorders, behavioral problems, and anxiety are some of the potential grave impacts of screen indulgence. People who are glued to their screen for more than 8 hours a day run a risk of poor eyesight. How much is the right amount of screen time, is still a matter of debate with research showing varying results. Clearly, a lot of work still needs to be done before giving a clear answer.
The Ugly part of Screen indulgence:
The biggest problem of increased screen time is that you are left with very little time to interact with your family. The worst part is that the food time is also getting shared as screen time. So, when you are eating food while staring at the screen; half of your senses are not even aware that you are eating and that’s the reason we never feel full even after taking a heavy meal. The sensual indulgence of almost all the activities is missing because a part of us is always involved with the screen. Many a time, kids are given smartphone-like devices to keep them quiet while adults talk. Like all of us, kids also love technology and the dopamine rush which comes when we are looking at a screen; we lose our sense of mind and control. If we do not control the screen time now; we may be very late and end up with problems that have no solution.
How to control or minimize screen time:
Let’s act before it’s too late. It would be very immature if we end up as a generation of poor eyesight, obesity, and suffering from anxiety.
Depriving kids altogether of technology or taking draconian measures will create undue pressure, tension, and an uneasy atmosphere in the families besides leading to a lot of discord. Controlling screen time is no rocket science; the one-word solution is DISCIPLINE.
Let’s remember that charity begins at home. Since adults discuss likes and comments on their social media posts – does it not give a signal to the child that it’s a cool thing to do? Does it not highlight or give undue importance to this fake world of social media friends and LIKES and are we creating hollow humans in the process? So parents must stop surfing on the mobile phone at least an hour before their bedtime; they have to stop themselves from playing games or watching those useless videos online if they don’t want their children to do the same. We need to implement stricter rules at home that disallow mobile phones and television viewing while it is dinner time or family time.
Since this lockdown has given us ample time, let us all use it to bring back the charm of board games of yesteryears. You will enjoy playing real Ludo more than online Ludo. Bring back badminton into your life. Bring back chess. Also, there exist better ways of celebrating ‘me-time’ rather than engaging in digital media or doing Houseparty calls.
Let’s not forget that technology, like fire, should be our slave and not a master. Technology is meant to simplify our life and to assist us; do not make the mistake of technology overpowering our existence.
A habit can be changed by replacing it with another habit. Every habit is a cycle of Cue, followed by Craving, followed by a Routine and then ultimately a Reward. To break this habit of looking at your mobile screen every second minute, you have to first identify the cue or that stimulus or that very moment which gives you the craving to check your phone or social media. Introspect your routine and identify all those patterns that have given you this habit of screen addiction. You must ignore this screen-craving and start deviating your mind on to other things. You can develop a routine of checking mobile phone on fixed times and use the time spent on screen for some ‘heartful’ activities. You will definitely reap the reward in the form of rested mind, better sleep, fresh skin and even more productive days!
I wish you good luck and look forward to listening to your cues, cravings, routines, and rewards as you strive to reduce the unproductive screen time.
Dr. Sachin Mittal is an Endocrinologist by Training with a commitment to work for public health and personal development. Post his DM in Endocrinology from the prestigious T.N. Medical College & B.Y.L. Nair Hospital, Mumbai, India; he did a Post – Doctoral Fellowship from University College of London and Great Ormond Street Hospital, London, United Kingdom. He is also the Founding Director of Sweet Diabetes Foundation, an NGO that helps the children with Diabetes.