Confronting Children's Dependency on Mobile Phones

Authors: Dr. Arshid Bhat, Tehzeema Mehraj, Fasahat Shabeer, Suwaid Jalal & Bhat Sahiba.

Children having mobile phone addiction is one of the gravest concerns for parents, educators, and health practitioners in the increasingly growing digital landscape. This is called "screen addiction" or "digital addiction" which has now become an important issue globally, especially in youth. The more you delve into this subject, the more important it is to understand the root causes & how it affects children in their growing years and what are the solutions that need to be addressed, to tackle this ever-increasing problem of Education vs wellbeing.

This image was generated by the DALLE-E3

Youngsters are drawn to mobile screens due to the veritable masses of entertainment and social media applications and the easier access to educational and communication features among others. But this very adaptability makes them so addictive. The instant gratification provided by games, social media and infinite content, all hooked via a vortex of dopamine, reinforces the cravings to be constantly touching these devices.

Moreover, as mobile phones are ubiquitous, children are exposed to them at a young age. Common Sense Media says that 53% of kids in the U.S. have a smartphone by the age of 11 and the average age a child gets a smartphone is 10.3 years old. Their formative brains are affected by exposure at an early age (which) will change their behaviour and shape a preference for digital interactions versus real-world experiences

Mobile phone addiction by children — there is more than screen time at risk The exhaustive screen time has been associated with a long list of disorders including developmental ones, 

1. Impair Speech and Cognitive SkillsiIn Kids: According to a study published in the journal Paediatrics, children who spend a lot of time on screens at a very young age are likelier to have poorer speech language and cognitive skills. Brain research also suggests that the constant stimulus of screens can overwhelm their young brains making it harder for some kids to concentrate, retain information and perform in school.

 2. Communication: Children who converse with other children solely by mobile phone miss out on the opportunity to develop essential social skills. The American Academy of Paediatrics also reports that the overuse of screens can inhibit social isolation, a lack of empathy and difficulties in creating and maintaining real-world relationships.

3. Physical Health- Prolonged use of mobile phones leads to many passive behaviours causing various physical health issues. Not doing enough physical activity as well as screen-based activity like watching TV or playing computer games are additional important risk factors contributing to childhood obesity. 

4. Emotional Health: Mobile phone addiction also significantly impacts a child's emotional health. Teenagers who spend more than seven hours a day on screens are more likely to be anxious or depressed, a study of almost 40,000 UK youngsters suggests social media platforms that bombard you with selective images and social comparisons can lead to feelings of failure, low self-esteem and mistreatment of the person.

To illustrate the real-life consequences of a child addicted to a mobile phone see some situations below:

1. Sarah, a 13-year-old girl doing excellently in her studies became academically challenged and eventually shabbily since she became addicted to her smartphone. She started to do worse at school, struggling to concentrate in class with all the messages and wanting to check her phone. 

2. Isolation & Withdrawal: James, age ten, became so engrossed in tablet gaming that he began to withdraw significantly from family and outdoor activities. The behaviour of his parents who saw him become increasingly irritated withdraw into himself and it was as if he gradually had no idea what world he was living in anymore made quite a lot of difference.

3. The neck and back pain coming from the smartphone are particularly noticeable in Emily (8 years). But where she was able to take a breather from her online habits as her paediatrician advised her to do more physical exercises and cut out on screen time but Emily simply could not. 

4. Emotional Turmoil: Max, 15 developed anxiety and low self-esteem from constantly measuring himself against his peers on social media. The unrealistic expectation from himself to live up to the standards seen online took a toll on his mental health and he began to experience depressive episodes. These examples illustrate how mobile phone addiction affects children in different dimensions of life. We need parents to beam in on those and put in place some good digital habits and general well being measures.

According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre:

A national level survey 'Annual Status of Education Report (ASER)-Rural 2021' has shown that around 72 percent students in J&K have mobile phone at their home but just 40 per cent can use it to study. While an India-focused national survey found that 6 out of 10 9 to 17-year-old children in that survey spent over three hours every day on social media sites or playing games. 

 Studies show that early children using screens excessively may lead to delayed language development, impaired social skills and attention problems in the future. Another report from a study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry found that children who spend more than two hours a day on screens also have lower cognitive abilities, less emotional regulation and higher levels of impulsiveness compared with those that spend less time on screens. 

This is obviously concerning for children, no less, so interventions need to be multi-sectoral and the whole of society approach. These are just a few of the measures that can be taken: 

1. Parental Guidance: Educating the parents about harmful effects of excess screen time and guiding them how to control and maintain healthy digital usage at their home. In its most recent guidelines, the American Academy of Paediatrics likewise recommends that 2 to 5-year-olds get no more than one hour of screen time daily and that screen-free zones be created in the home. 

2. School-Based Interventions: Introducing digital literacy practiced as a part of the academic curriculum, educating students about the proper use of the internet, teaching them critical thinking and online safety. Supporting less dependence on mobile phones among children might also include children doing more activities outside playing and arts and crafts and group activities like at the school. 

3. To address this issue regulatory measures have been proposed to pursue more stringent child-targeted advertising controls, reduce screen time by type on school grounds and ensure digital platforms contain an age-appropriate level of content. Governments and policymakers can implement appropriate standards and policies to ensure that the welfare of children is also well protected amid the boom of the digital age. 

4. Digital Wellness Tools: Encouraging the development or adoption of digital wellness applications measuring screen time, endorsing conscientious use and providing assistance to manage digital addiction. Helping children and parents see where time is truly being spent can better inform future choices around digital behaviour in ways that encourage balance. 

5. With these in mind, below we outline a few specific strategies that can help us step back from our addiction to tech-heavy living: Create Tech-Free Zones — By designating specific spaces in homes, schools and other public areas as tech-free zones, we can cultivate conditions that foster face-to-face interaction and offline engagement. Promoting a Digital diet can help mitigate the adverse consequences of mobile phone restrictions on children's overall health. 

The pervasiveness of the mobile phones in children's life necessitates a collaborative effort from all concerned to mitigate the adverse effects of addiction. To do so, we need to advocate for a more balanced digital use, preserve essential offline experiences and prioritize the whole child.

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