Children’s overuse of digital screen cause for concern

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A news story titled “Parents worry over children’s indulgence in digital screens” may have drawn the attention of parents and stakeholders concerned because the story is about one of the defining issues of parenting in digital age- overuse of digital gadgets by the children. The news story disseminated by the RSS had the dateline- Tikapur, Jan 3.

It brings forth the views of parents on growing use of digital gadgets by their children. The parents are concerned over the rise in the time the children spend with mobile phone and other gadgets. As per the story, a resident of Kailali district with a 9th grader child is concerned over his child’s excessive use of smart phone. “When COVID-19 forced us within our homes, the child attended classes virtually. But, he later got habituated with mobile phones and could not stay away from the screen for long.

More worrying is that the child even does not go outside to play with friends now,” the parent shared the plight this way. Other people quoted in the story also share similar concerns. A woman said, “I used to hand over mobile phone to the child in order to avoid his nagging and when I remained busy elsewhere. But, the child is so stuck to the digital gadget that he even does not eat food without engaging with mobile phone.” The views of the parents clearly reflect convenience, fear, regret, indulgence, opportunity, challenge and ir/responsibility linked to the use of digital devices.

These references which are experience of parents-though little- may be solid base for further research and study on parenting in digital age. Disruption: Essence of digital age We are living in a digital age, where internet has essentially disrupted every sector, thereby forcing us to undergo change, and build adaptive capacity for resilient digital life. Although a least developed country, Nepal too has seen huge rise in internet penetration for some years.

The latest MIS of Nepal Telecommunications Authority has shown the total broadband 131.50 percent in Nepal. Similarly, the availability of smart phone and expansion of internet infrastructures have contributed positively to digital connection. Access to internet connectivity to every school has also been prioritized by the government as well.

The schools and colleges are adopting IT and digital education to suit the present needs. Thanks to the internet expansion, numerous school and college students took class virtually in Nepal during the COVID-19. Internet was/is the only effective communicative lifeline in a crisis. There is unprecedented convenience the digital technology has ensured. It is linked to the disruptive feature of the digital age.

Parenting past and present Parenting in the past and present is starkly different. Although the social, political and educational status of a family and its values also determine parenting, the digital age has more radical impact on the parenting. The role of family members is gradually declining to bring up the children, while digital gadgets, virtual class and friends, internet games are influencing them at scale.

At a time when Nepali family has less number of members compared to the past, internet has emerged so unavoidable that it is being regarded as a family member. The values a family inculcates to the children are evidently affected and dented, for their most of the time is spent in company with digital gadgets even while staying with family. The parents belonging to 35 to 50-year age group who spent their childhood in scarcity evidently finds the present time the abundance of facilities. But, comparison of scarcity with abundance comes only to add the worry to parents.

The games, pastime, learning and socialization in the past (of parent) and present (of children) are different: Indoor games and learning were unimaginable for many in the past, while learning, pastime and games are all in a digital gadget now. Only thing the children need is a cozy sofa or a closed room to ensconce. Importantly, the sedentary life is fueled by the digital screens as the digital platforms are turning from state of ‘easing to pleasing’ to its consumers.

The digital platforms which run on ‘winner-take-all’ model foster surveillance capitalism by exploiting the emotional weakness of the users, to which children, given their early psychological state, fall victim. Consequently, the curiosity-driven age group gets stuck to the digital screens, thereby exceeding convenience to pleasure. The children become victims of cybercrimes due to innocence and curiosity, to which parents’ fuss is not unusual.

How Much is Too Much? Getting glued to digital screens have the link to feel-good side of brain as researchers and experts have suggested. Considering fragile state of children’s brain, psychologists and doctors have furnished recommendation useful to the digital parenting. How much time is too much?” Screen time for children between the age of 2 and 5 years should not exceed one hour; the lesser, the better,” recommends the Indian Academy of Pediatrics (IAP) through its publication named ‘Screen Time Guidelines for Parents’ in 2021. The Guidelines have answered 10 frequently asked questions on screen time. It is undoubtedly a good resource for the parents. With this, it is safe to argue that parenting in the past was guided largely by the parents/guardians or senior and elders but parenting at present is guided more by children- that is to say digital disruption.

Consider other side, there is hasty generalization that internet and digital gadgets are harmful, and these should be banned for children. Banning digital devices to children is however extreme thoughts. Have the parents reviewed their role? It is intriguing in deed to see faults only on the children’s sides. As already stated, in the age of digital disruption, the role of every stakeholders needs redefining. How often the parents/guardians spend time with children is important. Parents can be the friends to their children to explore the creative side of digital life.

Along with the monitoring of the children’s digital screen, togetherness with children in virtual learning, and games can be meaningful. Parents must not ignore the easiness a child finds on digital screens to solve difficult homework and educational learning. Traditional role of parents must be changed to suit the present digital parenting. Digital skilling and up-skilling of parents also counts much to reduce children’s overuse of digital screen and prevent addiction. Once we are prepared and our readiness to digital life and internet ecosystem is robust, the disruption will not limit only to negative effects, but result in innovation in every sector.

Mere decry to disruption is not solution but seeking measures to harness the benefits of internet and digital platforms, and minimize their harms in a collective manner is urgency of the day.

(RSS)


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