When Ananya Mehrotra started to notice her 3-year-old son Dhruv displaying unusual behaviour, she became very worried. She started to think of the numerous reasons her son was unable to sit still and focus for too long.
She was also troubled by the fact that Dhruv wasn’t interacting with other kids of his age.
“I realised the gravity of the situation when his playschool teacher told me that he avoided eye contact and was not able to solve basic puzzles for his age,” said Ananya.
She then decided to consult Clinical Psychologist Rashi Bijlani at the Child Development Clinic at Sitaram Bhartia Hospital in South Delhi.
Rashi asked Ananya a couple of questions to better understand Dhruv’s lifestyle. She then carried out a screening assessment to identify areas (that needed help) such as:
- Social communication
- Fine and gross motor skills
- Problem solving skills
Diagnosis of the Developmental Disorder
Rashi wanted to know how much time Dhruv spent in front of the television, mobile, tablet and laptop.
Not expecting the question Ananya was a little taken aback. She thought of how often she allows Dhruv to watch television without a break, or how she hands him the tablet to keep him busy when she’s cooking or lets him play games on her phone when she’s working on her laptop.
Finally, she mentioned that Dhruv probably spent about 4 to 5 hours a day in front of the screen.
After assessing the results of the tests and factoring in his screen time, Rashi realized that the developmental issues Dhruv was experiencing was because of the prolonged and frequent exposure to the screen.
Ananya was under the impression that her child was actually learning new things through these gadgets, so she was a little confused about how the screens could affect her child’s development.
She asked the psychologist her question.
Effects of Increased Screen Exposure On Child’s Development
“When young children get hooked to smartphones and television, it can cause misalignments in the brain which if left untreated for a long time can damage their developing brains,” explained Rashi.
It is proved that if a child spends too much time in front of the screen instead of exploring the outside world, he can experience negative health issues like:
- Decreased cognitive ability
- Impaired language development
- Short attention span.
“That’s why, while international experts advise parents to keep their children away from television and phones till 2 years of age, I personally recommend it to be 4 years,” remarked Rashi.
Absolutely unaware of this, Ananya wanted to know more about the harmful effects of screen time:
Impacts the ability to explore: A baby’s brain develops very quickly from 0 – 3 years and it is very sensitive to the environment around him. Around this time, he should be exploring his surroundings, interacting with people and objects.
Interaction with people and the outside world develops his ability to concentrate, pay attention, sense other people’s attitudes and communicate with them using vocabulary.
If he spends many hours watching a screen, he may get detached from the real world and find it difficult to apply the knowledge he picked up from a 2D screen in the 3D world.
Hampers cognitive development: Constantly watching videos on gadgets adversely affects your child’s thinking ability.
“When you narrate a story to your child, his brain takes time to process your voice into words, visualize pictures and he makes a mental effort to follow a storyline. This way his cognitive muscles develop and sharpen. That process is cut short when your child watches a story on the screen instead. The thinking is done by the television or phone and your child’s cognitive muscles remain weak,” explained Rashi.
Affects ability to socialize: Your baby’s ability to interact with people and empathize with them also develops in the first few years and that is done only through authentic human interactions.
“The more time your child is spending in front of the screen, the lesser time he is spending interacting with kids his age and people around him. This can negatively affect his empathic abilities.”
Ananya realised that this was the reason her 3-year old was having trouble interacting with children his age. She felt sorry for all those times when she handed him the phone just so she could get her work done.
Creates dependance on the feeling of instant gratification: Smartphones and tablets act as an intense audio-visual stimulus for your baby offering him a gamut of new colours, shapes and sounds with just a single swipe.
This releases a neurotransmitter dopamine in his brain which is associated with the feeling of pleasure. It is quite addictive and makes your child used to the instant gratification the screen provides.
“Your child may start showing temper tantrums if he doesn’t get the instant response he is used to by now due to continuous screen exposure,” said Rashi.
Rashi advised Ananya to keep her son away from watching any kind of screen at all and indulge him in as many outdoor and indoor activities as possible.
Ways to limit screen exposure in your child
The Child Developmental Clinic guided Ananya on how to follow a zero screen time strategy.
It was a little challenging with her work routine, but she managed to come up with creative ways to engage her child.
When she was cooking for example, instead of giving him a tablet, she showed him vegetables and told him what their colours were. For example, she pointed to a red capsicum and told him the colour was ‘red’.
To see how much he was able to grasp, she asked him to sit outside the kitchen and identify other objects of the same colour.
Use these simple tips to reduce the screen time for your child:
- Play with your child – Spend as much time with your kids as possible. Encourage them to play with you. Don’t just give them something to play with.
- Set a good example – Children often imitate their parents. Hence, limit your screen time as well so that your child doesn’t get encouraged to use your phone or laptop.
- Be actively involved in their lives – Instead of handing them your phone or laptop, ask them details about their day at school.
- No screens in the bedrooms – Install televisions and computers only in the common areas of your house, not in your child’s or your bedroom. This way you’ll know when your kid sneaks away to watch some TV
- Indulge in arts and crafts: Children around 5-8 years enjoy creating things. You can use stencils or colouring books and help them colour. You could even teach them how to make a paper boat or origami objects.
“It is better if you start following these corrective steps during infancy because babies get drawn towards the screen when they watch their parents work on their laptops and phones,” advised Rashi.
Ananya began to spend a lot more time with her son and was pleased to note that he began to show signs of improvement within a week.
He even made a couple of friends when his mother arranged playdates for his classmates and him.
“I’m so happy I was alerted to the situation at the right time. The advice I received not only helped Dhruv but also helped me bond better with my son!”
If you think your toddler is displaying signs similar to Dhruv, come in for a consultation at the Child Development Clinic of Sitaram Bhartia Hospital in Delhi and get help today!