Held Captive by Gadgets
Tiny tots hooked to Temple Run at an age where they are supposed to do some actual running is a common sight these days. When the news about a 4-year-old child getting treated for addiction to iPads was reported in UK, it came as a wake-up call about the unintended impact of modern gadgets. Psychologists here say we are fast-catching up with the West. They say of late they are receiving a considerable number of cases where parents complain about their children’s craving for smartphones and tabs. “Parents come with complaints that the children are very adamant and throw tantrums if the phone is not given to them. In many such cases, the child refuses to sleep, spending time on games. Even as many parents feel it is bad for the child, they end up giving the gadget to the child as it is the only way to calm the child,” says psychiatrist V Jayanthini. Experts say such nagging by children demanding the gadgets, spending too much time on them and loss of concentration are indications of addiction to gadgets. “In many cases, children may not get addicted at a very young age, but when they reach their teens, they end spending too much time on their phones and we have to start a series of counselling sessions to make them break out of this,” says psychiatrist D Srinivasan.
Each minute a child plays with his virtual companions rather than human ones implies that he is losing some time from flesh-and-blood interaction. Psychologists say the bedrock of childhood development is developing social and interpersonal skills that come through interaction with adults and other children. The direct impact of gadgets is that children are spending lesser time interacting with other children. “One of the most visible effects is the reduced level of interaction by children with others of the same age. I have seen children carrying tabs or smartphones and staying engrossed in them even while going on a tour. The children get a feeling that they will be left behind by their peers if they don’t use gadgets,” says psychiatrist Dr Anand Pratap. He says many parents don’t complain as they notice that the children don’t nag them when they use smartphones. But it could end up having a lifelong impact on the children. “The first indication we get is how a child interacts with his peers in the class and tends to be an introvert. In a majority of such cases, parents say the child spends too much time either with TV or phones,” says a teacher in a private school. Experts say the early habits of the children stick on and have a magnifying effect as they grow. “Many parents say their child is so addicted to smartphones that they eagerly await the arrival of their father from office just to snatch the phone from him and get down to playing games. I wonder if the child has lost all emotional attachment with the father, as he does not get excited by his arrival but by the arrival of the smartphone,” says Jayanthini.
Children learn mostly by mimicking parents. So parents must avoid excess smartphone and tab-usage in front of their kids.
Putting the child in a playschool or forming a playgroup with other children in the neighbourhood will give more time for human interaction and play .
Parents must spend more quality time with children. The child should be taken along even if parents go to a shop .
A child must spend five minutes on human interaction for every one minute spent on using gadgets or watching television
Children must be given toys of varying types and sizes. The toys must conform to safety norms and be appropriate for that age.
With swanky visuals and extensive audio content to boot, smartphones leave little to the imagination, thus having a pronounced effect on the child’s creative thinking faculties. Parents often get excited observing how fast their kids learn the ropes of using a smartphone or a tab. But psychologists say encouraging their kids to use gadgets can end up hampering the intelligence of the child. “These gadgets supply readymade images and visuals to the child, limiting the role of imagination. If there is no challenge for the child’s imagination and creativity, the brain tends to become lazy and the capacity for creative thinking is lost,” says Srinivasan. Experts say even when a child is playing alone with her toys or exploring the objects in his house, it poses a great challenge to the child’s thinking and can stimulate the imagination. The failures and frustrations while exploring real objects or activities are lost. “In a video game, the child can simply quit and start over again,” he says. This tendency will ultimately result in the child never developing any interest in other artistic activities later in life or may not even be able to concentrate on reading a book. “The gadgets may stimulate a lot of thinking in the child, but not imagination, which is different. The use of gadgets will only end up limiting creativity,” says psychologist Saras Baskar.
Paying attention in class may not be something that all students over the ages have done. But previously, these students did not want to listen, while psychiatrists now warn that excessive screen-viewing could make a child unable to listen for more than a few minutes. It’s a long established fact that most parts of the brain develop before a child attains the age of three. In what should be a warning for parents, researchers have established that exposure to highly attracting visual content like televisions and videogames permanently alters the way the neurons (that form the brain’s internal structures) develop. “For this reason, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly advocates that there should not be any screen-related activity for children until the age of two. Otherwise, the brain and its neuron structure will be permanently altered,” says Jayanthini. Research in the US in 2003 showed that children exposed to too much television have a much higher risk of developing attention disorders by the age of seven. This means the child will not be able to listen to the teacher in the classroom or read a book. Such disorders can have a drastic impact on the academics of the child. Since the effects of this are a permanent change in the neural system of the brain, doctors say prevention is better than cure. “A simple solution can be putting the child in a playschool where he will spend time with other children, not in front of the TV at home,” says Jayanthini.
When Speech Turns Boring
With all the bells and whistles gadgets have to offer, human speech may end up being bland and the child may not make an effort to speak, say experts. Gadget use could delay speech and the basic skill of hand-eye coordination, they warn. “The children are attracted to music or other sounds from gadgets. But they can learn sound-making or speech only from other humans. Gadget sounds reduce the effort a child will put in to learn speech,” says Srinivasan. A similar phenomenon is the loss of hand-eye coordination. “Even at five years, many kids in my class have difficulty in removing their slippers and placing them on the shelf,” says V Parimala, a Montessori school teacher. Experts say handling a gadget is simple, but the challenges in handling a real life object are far more complex. For children, when a tab obeys their every command by just a swipe, the complexity of real life objects look odd. “The gadgets limit the time children spend playing outside with their peers. The problem is, parents also don’t complain as today most parents are always occupied with office or other work,” says Pratap.
‘A’ Content Creeps in
Blood and skimpily clad women are hardly things that a child should be exposed to, but these are some of the inadvertent mistakes that happen when parents give their gadgets to their young ones. Ramesh Mohan, a media professional, recently had a firsthand experience when he found his friend’s 7-year-old son take his father’s phone and play a pornography clip stored on it. “I instantly snatched the phone, but the child started crying. I later told my friends not to store porn on their phones if they are giving it to their children,” he says. Experts say most of the games are not age-appropriate. “Aggressive children get attracted to violent games and become more violent. The games often involve shooting and killing people,” says Jayanthini. “The problem is that they are given all these gadgets when they are not mature enough or ready to handle it. So the children do not know how to filter unsafe content,” says Saras Baskar. She says the children often get addicted to content that is not appropriate for them. The onus, thus, lies on the parents to filter the content.