There is a form of addiction that stunts and alters brain development, has adverse physiological effects, and impedes a person’s social skills. Yet, few people realize that they themselves cause this addiction to their own children as their kids grow up. I am talking about addiction to screens: Television, computers, computer games, cellphones, iPads and other internet-based gadgets. Parents do not give much thought to the idea that their children own and use as many gadgets as they want, thinking, in fact, that these help in their children’s development. But hear this.
A recent interview by the Daily Mirror with Bill Gates, the world’s richest man, who invented Microsoft, computers and the internet, confounded many. He said that he and his wife did not allow their children to use and own cellphones, computers and gadgets until the age of 14. And even when they reached 14, their hours on the screen were limited. It turns out, even Steve Jobs—the inventor of Apple gadgets such as the iPhone, iPad, and the iPod—did not allow his children to use such gadgets until they were 14 years of age, too. Further research revealed that Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired and now chief executive of 3D Robotics, a drone maker, has put in place time limits and parental controls on every device in his home. His four kids, aged between six and 17, accused him and his wife of being fascists he said, but he explained that he himself has seen the dangers of technology. These dangers, he said, include exposure to pornography, bullying from other kids, and worst of all, getting addicted to devices. Another prominent technology executive, Evan Williams, the founder of Blogger, Twitter and Medium—together with his wife–has also prohibited their two young sons from using gadgets. They give their sons books instead.
The American Academy of Pediatrics which has conducted studies on the effects of early exposure of children to screens says that children below two years of age should never be allowed to watch television. Even for adults, too much television-watching puts the brain in a highly suggestible sleep-like hypnotic state, making it addictive and causing reduction of higher brain functioning. It is more dangerous for children as it impairs brain development and may cause mental disorders like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD. Studies say that the brain is more active when sleeping than when a person is watching television, making a person less intelligent.
A research by the Michael Cohen Group reveals that 60 percent of kids under 12 play on portable screen often while 38 percent play very often. Gadgets have become the toys preferred by the younger generation. What is the effect? One, the Association of Teachers in Britain reported in 2014 that a growing number of toddlers now lack the motor skills to play with building blocks. Because they spend too much time on gadgets, they spend much less time on physical activities resulting in poor motor skills and early obesity. Two, gadget addiction can affect a child’s sleep. The greater risks, however, are connected with the mental health of children. Overuse of gadgets have led to child depression, anxiety, autism and other problematic child behaviors, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the US. In the US, in the last two decades, the number of children between the age of four and 17 with ADHD has more than doubled.
What does the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend? Television and gadgets must strictly be prohibited for children aged two and below. Gadgets must never be used to pacify children. Even above the age of two, time must be strictly limited in the use of gadgets and television. Parents must monitor what media or websites children are accessing. Even better, they should co-view movies, TV and videos with their children and use this as a way to discuss important family values. There should be a mealtime and bedtime curfew for all devices which must be strictly implemented.
What are the signs a child is addicted to screens and gadgets? When he is watching or playing more than two hours each day and exhibits mood swings or tantrums when his watching or gaming is disrupted. You know the child needs a gadget or screen detox when he is not socially- inclined, prefers being alone, or when his speech development is delayed. With the advances in technology, parenting has become more challenging now than it has ever been. There is no shirking from this duty if we want to raise intellectually, emotionally, psychologically and physically healthy children.