Tue. Oct 4th, 2022

Health Implications of Early Electronic Screen Exposure    

Photo via UNICEF


By Hussun Karim Jan

The children of this generation have more access to electronic media on daily basis compared to previous generations. Today, the screen time is all-time high among children under the age of five. The effects of this prolonged exposure seem mild for now but will be significant in the next ten to fifteen years.

Early exposure of screen time can be beneficial for children in terms of their participation in educational programs. However, prolonged screen exposure at childhood is linked to negative psycho-health health outcomes including obesity behavior problems, emotional regulations, speech delays, lower executive functioning and reduced academic performances.

Early exposure to screen has been found prevalent at a younger age in Gilgit Baltistan due largely to the influence of the parental encouragement for keeping their children engaged and entertained in their absence.  This tendency of the parents is partly for matching the elite class fashion and partly for sparing time for themselves to involve in their own activities. Most of the young parents proudly reported that their child aged below two years have been able and enjoy electronic media on regular basis. However, it has been explored that the excessive screen time can impede the brain development processes at the younger ages therefore, experts suggest for four hours or less than four hours screen time a day for younger children. 

It has been observed in early childhood schools in Gigit Baltistan that the Autistic-Like symptoms are apparent in children. The excessive use of screen time adversely effected children’s physical, behavioral, emotional, and cognitive developments. Generally, children learn from their environment by observing the activities of adults, especially their parents and other family members but now a days the children of our era spare less time for playing, exercising, or interacting with friends and family in real life. They are living in an imaginary world seldom responding to the question. They have less real human connections with their peers in schools and struggle to develop relationships. This lack of interaction has also an effect on their language development. We are witnessing a decline in their ability to understand and grasp languages that are spoken around them. It has been found in ECD classes that too much reliance on digital media holds back their thinking power and motivational level. Because of the increased screen addiction, children cannot accept nearby people, which at some point can cause frustration, anxiety, and impulsive behaviors in early years. Additionally, too much screen exposure reduces a child’s ability to read facial expressions and learn social skills, which can impact the child’s overall empathy levels.

Romanian clinical psychologist Dr Marius Zamfir considers these symptoms as “Virtual Autism” and reports that new clinical case studies have found that many young children who spend too much screen time on TV, video games, tablets, and computers have symptoms labeled as “autism.” When parents take away the screens for a few months the child’s symptoms disappear. The term for this phenomenon is “Virtual Autism” or autism induced by electronic screens. 

Therefore, I would like to suggest some smart ways proposed by the literature that can help young parents to reduce their child’s screen time.

Undivided Attention: When your child needs you to hear him/her out, keep your devices away and choose to talk to your child. This way, children realize their importance over the phone/laptop.

Engage & Involve: It is important to keep your child engaged in activities that involve touch and feel such as drawing, painting, reading, gardening, and singing.

Conversations are key: Talk to your children and ask them about what happened at school, their favorite song, what did they do together with their friends. Talk to your child about the impact of excessive screen time on their eyes, and what all do they miss doing because of that. Introduce your child to sports and help them take it up for long.

Plan family outings: Choose an interesting place for the weekend, for instance, a visit to the zoo, activity parks, museums, or the library. This will encourage your kids to explore the world beyond the screens.

Set a schedule: Make a screen time schedule for your child. Follow this schedule consistently and persist no matter how much your child tries to avoid it.

Make technology-free zones in your house: Create screen-free zones in your house where you won’t bring in any electronics like smart phones, tabs, or laptops. For instance, your dining area can be a technology-free zone, which is only reserved for family conversations and meals. Your child’s room should also be in the same zone.

The society of Gilgit-Baltistan is in a transition mode for traditional to the pure market economy and the issue mentioned here is a by-product of this transition.   The issue is swiftly emerging in the sub-Urban contexts of Gilgit-Baltistan and the symptoms are apparent in the early childhood educations centers. This is the time to focus on combating this evil before it becomes uncontrollable, and the society faces a new educational challenge.

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