Today’s Cache | Is a smartphone-free childhood possible?

Smartphones have become ubiquitous devices, and the pandemic has only increased people’s reliance on them. Even children are now using mobile phones to meet, chat and watch videos. 

Updated - November 08, 2022 08:25 pm IST

Published - November 08, 2022 02:15 pm IST

A file photo of a girl using a smartphone in bed

A file photo of a girl using a smartphone in bed | Photo Credit: Getty Images

(This article is part of Today’s Cache, The Hindu’s newsletter on emerging themes at the intersection of technology, innovation and policy. To get it in your inbox, subscribe here.)

There used to be time when telephones were tethered to a connection box in the living room. They were not powered by batteries. And most households had only one at home. Children rarely used the device as they went outdoors to play. Those times are long gone, as kids are now raised on a regular heavy diet of screen-time, watching videos, and playing games.

Before teachers and parents could even debate about the good- and ill-effects of the ubiquitous device, children were further pushed towards the smartphone to attend classes and study. In today’s tech-driven world, several parents use mobile devices to keep their children entertained or distracted. It gives them time to get other work done.

Mobile phones hold children’s attention in a way nothing else does. But they could potentially impact young brains. Several researchers note that spending more time on electronic display devices may lead to anti-social behaviour and reduce attention, verbal ability, and reading time.

One boarding school in the U.S. conducted a social experiment by taking away smartphones from kids. The school in northwest of Massachusetts banned both its students and teachers from using smartphones. Instead, they were given a feature phone just to have essential communication with their family.

Nearly two months later, students are said to getting comfortable with a life without social media. Some have noted that it was nice to see other students walking around the campus without looking into their smartphones. The year-long social experiment has not been as bad as students feared. Teachers have noticed that students are more engaged in class.

Until the boarding school’s experiment is replicated in other schools, parents and guardians of children can help in reducing their wards’ screen-time. One pre-pandemic research on screen-time highlights the value of understanding family use of digital tools more holistically when exploring ways to address the concerns and support positive use of digital devices.

This led to governments of U.S. and Australia framing policies on limiting screen-time for children. It also discouraged parents from allowing pre-schoolers to be physically inactive for extended periods of time. In essence, it argued for a family-based strategy for parents to craft a mindful approach to digital technology.

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