Safety with E24|7: Gadget addictions

Unrestricted screen-time for children could lead to an addiction that is just as serious as substance addiction. (Shutterstock)

We are all guilty of handing kids our iPads or smartphones so they are entertained. An exercise that we believe is harmless, but one that experts claim will have adverse effects on a child’s overall development.

Unrestricted screen-time for children could lead to an addiction that is just as serious as substance addiction.

Dr. C.B. Binu, chief psychiatrist at Al Fasht Medical Centre in Al Nahda, Sharjah, outlines the importance of monitoring time allotted for gadgets and gaming consoles.

“If children are allowed unlimited gadget access, they will eventually be unable to disconnect from the virtual space and step into the real world. They become ill-equipped to understand and adapt to the actual environment around them.

“It could lead to permanent derailment of the brain development. And, could even develop into ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).”

Dr Binu explains why the digital zone becomes more exciting. “The virtual world is very engaging, with images changing every few seconds. So, when the changes are slower outside the virtual reality they get disinterested and begin to object.”

Even the games, he adds, are designed to keep its audience hooked. “Every time they cross a level, they get an adrenaline rush.”

But, each child is different, and the gadget influence varied. “Not all children have gadget addiction, but often the extra dependence on gadgets could turn into a habit. It’s the classic case of the ‘more you use it, the more you want it’. Before you know it, children start displaying withdrawal symptoms with anxiety/panic spells and show irritability when the gadget is taken away.

“Due to the over-attachment to gadgets, it could be one of the contributing factors for behavioural and emotional problems.”

Limiting screen-time is essential and something parents should pay extra care to. “It’s tough to cut out the gadgets, but restricting screen-time to 45 minutes to less than two hours a day should be a good start.”

Digital detox is extremely necessary, and something Dr Binu has launched in Al Fasht Centre. “Considering we live in an environment where it’s not feasible to step outdoors due to the weather conditions, it is important that parents make an effort to help their children take up activities that are not connected to the virtual space.”

In fact, the digital detox programme starts with the parents switching off their gadgets and limiting their screen-time. “Children are a reflection of their parents. So, if the parents are hooked on their laptops and mobiles, then they are sending the wrong signal to their kids. This is why we parents must set an example.”

Dr Binu agrees that the exercise of handing an iPad to your child could start off as a harmless exercise, but if left unmonitored, it could develop into an obsession over time.

Each child is treated exclusively, and the detox prescribed based on how affected they are. “We often find that children who are emotionally more fragile tend to hide behind these gadgets.”

During the detox, superheroes are also introduced to help children wean away from their favourite toys. “Batman, Superman or Dora are used as tools that children can identify with. Children are taught how life can continue to be exciting and fun even without these gadgets around. They are encouraged to take up activities that are thrilling and keep them grounded to reality. Sports, arts and music are fun, and stimulating for children.”

Dr Binu adds that the children are monitored over a period of time to check their progress and to ensure the condition doesn’t relapse.