Prolonged screen time and its effects on Children during the Pandemic
Dr Samith Alva, Specialist – Pediatrics, Aster Clinic - JLT
Top lifestyle issues faced by Children during the Pandemic
There have been several changes that children have had to adjust to since the onset of the pandemic.
- Eyesight: Eyesight problems with frequent headaches and loss of sleep are on the rise mainly due to prolonged screen time with classes being held online
- Classroom ergonomics: Online classes at home are not bound to follow classroom decorum. Children are not bound to follow good ergonomics at home and commonly end up attending online classes on their bed and sofas which have become the most common reason that we see a rise in musclo-skeletal pains.
Excessive use of digital devices during Pandemic
The presence of digital devices is an inexhaustible subject for various debates and research, but regardless of the results that can be reached, it is impossible to isolate today’s children from the screens as it comes across as every day requirement. Long hours spent in front of the screen due to academic and extra-curricular or simply entertainment purposes can lead to long-lasting repercussions
- Bad Posture, Back Aches, Neck and Shoulder Strain
It is a common sight to see our children hunched up over a device. Unfortunately, it happens so often that the hunch is there even when the device is not.
In addition to this, with no discipline in posture while attending hours of classes everyday, children tend to not stick to a designated study area with proper furniture leading them to slouch or sit lazily, all contributing to even more posture related issues.
- Eye Strain
Dry eyes, a burning sensation, problems in focusing are all symptoms of eye strain that all device users commonly face. For children, it can be very harmful as bright lights of the screen, high screen contrasts, glare and flickering images can take a toll on their eyes.
Children seldom get headaches, but too much screen-time can bring one on. A combination of muscle tension at the base of the skull and an assault on the eyes is the usual cause.
Studies have shown that overuse of digital devices increases stress levels. Constant stress over a prolonged periods of time affect sleep, digestion and emotions.
- Physical Fatigue
Staying still or sitting in one place for long periods of time reduces blood circulation and can put a lot of stress on muscles and joints. This leads to the feeling of getting tired without even moving around.
- Poor Sleep Patterns
Research has confirmed that exposure to mobile phones and other devices can cause changes in brain activity and sleep disturbances. This could also be a stress symptom.
Devices may help to keep children calm and make them stay put in one place, but the lack of physical activity is a major contributing factor to childhood obesity and its accompanying risks.
What is the ideal recommended screen time?
Below is the Screen Time Guidelines by age as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and World Health Organization (WHO)
- Babies younger than 18 months should have no screen time at all. The exception to this rule can be video chatting with grandparents or other family & friends
- Toddlers between 18 months up to 2 years must co-watch high-quality educational content with parents to help them understand what they are seeing, and limit total exposure to less than 1 hour in a day
- By ages 2 and 5, children should get no more than 1 hour a day of screen time. Elders should try to plan TV-time in advance. Children at this age can have mindful interaction with characters, so help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them
- Children between 6- 10 years should ideally be granted only 1 to 1.5 hours per day of screen time while children between 11-13 years, up to 2 hours per day
Role of Exercise for Children
Children should accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate intensity activity a day; this can involve lots of short bouts of physical activity and a range of intensive activities. Over the week, activities should include some that stress muscles and bones (like yoga and jumping) and some that help promote movement skill (involving balance, coordination and body awareness). There is also evidence that increased physical activity is associated with enhanced mental health, improved cognitive (mental) function, aspects of self-esteem, and reduced anxiety.
Any activity that gets your child moving is beneficial. Activity ideas include playing traditional playground games indoors (e.g. hide and seek, tag, skipping), dancing to music, and getting creative e.g. building an obstacle course, playing balloon volleyball, making an action movie or learning to juggle.