Overcome screen addiction among teenagers

While the recent WHO guidelines may be easily implementable for young children, here’s how parents with teens can tackle tantrums around restricting mobile devices

May 06, 2019 05:21 pm | Updated 05:21 pm IST

Girls, Teenage Boys, Child

Girls, Teenage Boys, Child

The World Health Organization recently issued guidelines advising that children below one year not have access to any screens, TV or tablets; and that children, two to four, have limited screen time of not more than an hour a day.

By now, we all know why WHO felt the need to issue the guideline, but just to reiterate, too much screen time can lead to irregular sleep patterns, behavioural problems, a lack of social skills, poor eating habits, and in the long term, is a risk factor for obesity.

While young kids can be distracted and denied a gadget, it is trickier for parents with teenagers. Take Binu Dennis, a mother of a 15-year-old from Kochi, who hasn’t bought her daughter a phone, but finds that the teen uses hers and her grandmother’s. “One day I took away the phone from her and she stopped talking to me till I gave it back,” she says.

Teens are most often not on TV screens, which are public — they’re on smartphones, where all kinds of content is available to them. Where a shared screen may generate a discussion, a personal device draws people into themselves.

How do parents communicate with their teens about phone usage? J Nicolas Benedict, counselling psychologist, Naveen Hospital; Dr Arun Vangili, a psychiatrist, both in Coimbatore; and Thenndral S, psychological counsellor and founder-CEO of Eros Psycoun Services, Chennai tell us how to move slowly and not break things.

Know the reason

Try to understand why children are on the screen so much. Reasons can vary. For some it may be because they have no one to speak to or play with in the house. However, it’s important not to be scared of children’s reactions, or feel guilty because say, you may be spending a lot of time out of home and thereby compensate. Children catch on quickly.

Take it slow

The teenage years are a time of assertion of independence. Reducing screen time should be brought into practice slowly. A sudden reduction can lead to separation anxiety, especially if your child is a habitual user. Talk to your child, and tell them that you trust them in how they use their devices. Later, discuss with them the effects it can have on them and give them some time to understand it and come to terms with it. Negotiate, supervise and guide them in the use of screens.

Have conversations

When the rules about screen-time are set for the child, be a role model for them. Make meal time your family time and avoid bringing your smart devices to the dining room. Have discussions on the advantages and disadvantages of screens and give children small challenges for their self assessment. It can be asking them not to use their screen for a few hours or go to a friend’s place or for tuition without it. Such experiences will help them (and you) understand the unnecessary dependency on screens better.

Avoid the screen at night

Ask them to avoid keeping their devices in their bedrooms at night, not just so they don’t use it and keep to bedtime, but also from a radiation point of view. Though research has not established clearly what effect radio waves have, it’s best to be safe.

Use apps

Install applications and parental control that monitors the usage time of the devices. Ask the child to analyse the time and the content that they watched, rather than you doing it for them. Do not be judgemental when your child shares this information, instead again, have a conversation about how particular content can influence them.

Find alternatives

Encourage your children to interact with others and play outdoor games with their friends. Revisit and structure their time as they grow up. Engaging in physical activity and going out with family and friends often will also help.

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