Mastering the screen: 10 strategies for a healthy relationship with technology

In our modern age, much of our day is dedicated to exploring the vast sea of ​​the internet or catching up on the latest videos. You’ve probably come across headlines about people attempting daring stunts live, some of which unfortunately end in accidents. The intriguing thing is how even the youngest, around 3-4 years old, are already so familiar with phones that they perk up and pay attention when their parents mention the magic word “phone”.

Lost in Screens: The Unseen Consequences

Children watch screens mostly for entertainment during their free time. The quantity ofscreen time varies, ranging from 21% to 98% in middle-income countries and from 10% to 93.7% in high-income countries. Little ones who use too many screens can face problems like delayed language skills, ADHD and anxiety. Quite surprising. Instead of running in fields or playing with friends, children, especially those under 14 and 16, are glued to their phones. COVID made matters worse by keeping them indoors, missing out on immune-building playtime. Also, their focus on learning and school takes a hit. And here’s a big problem – relationships suffer because everyone is so engrossed in their phones, which leads to less face-to-face interaction.

Remember that spending too much time in front of your TV, laptop or phone may not be good for your health. It turns out that the blue light coming from these devices can mess with various cells in your body, such as those in your skin, fat, and even your sensory neurons. This light can throw off important chemicals in your cells, such as succinate and glutamate, making your cells work less efficiently and potentially speeding up the aging process. Additionally, excessive screen time is associated with sedentary lifestyles, non-communicable diseases and health risks.

Ways to manage screen time and get off your phones

  • Set clear limits: Set specific time limits for daily screen use and stick to them consistently.
  • Create phone-free spaces: Designate specific places or times, such as mealtimes or the bedroom, as technology-free zones to improve concentration and connection.
  • Use regulation apps: Explore apps that help monitor and regulate your screen time by letting you set reminders and limits.
  • Schedule regular screen breaks: Schedule purposeful breaks from screen time throughout the day to rest your eyes and rejuvenate your mind. Prolonged phone use can lead to digital eye strain or dry eyes. Applying a moisturizing eye cream is recommended. Dark circles under the eyes can be due to dry eyes caused by prolonged phone use.
  • For those in the workforce, it is recommended that they stick to the 20-20-20 rule, or take short breaks of 5-10 minutes every half hour, rather than sitting continuously.
  • Explore non-digital hobbies: Rediscover screen-free activities like reading, drawing or outdoor hobbies. Despite the decline in physical book consumption, it is recommended to read real books, especially before going to bed, for better sleep quality and to combat insomnia.
  • Emphasize real-life connections: Emphasize spending quality time with friends and family in person, maintaining and strengthening real connections.
  • Tech-free day: Set aside one day each week to reduce or completely abstain from screen use, giving your mind and body a much-needed break.
  • Get outdoors: Engage in outdoor activities like walking in the park, hiking, or simply immersing yourself in nature to balance out the technology-dominated aspects of life.
  • Set a curfew: Create an evening routine to put electronic devices away, ensuring better sleep and overall well-being. Follow AAP guidelines: no screens for children under two and ≤1 hour/day for 2-5 year olds. Parents should monitor children’s social media, guiding them on safety, security, and advantages and disadvantages, emphasizing avoiding strangers and preventing cyberbullying. Find easy ways to monitor and limit your gadget usage.
  • Embrace mindful living: Integrate mindfulness practices like meditation or yoga into your routine to promote a harmonious balance between screen time and mental well-being.

How to protect yourself from non-communicable diseases in children

Breaking our phone addiction can lead to a better life for us and our loved ones. As modern parents and pediatricians, we recognize the positive role of social media in promoting connections and well-being. However, we also consider its negatives, such as harassment and privacy issues. Let’s swap bad habits and find balance for a happier and healthier lifestyle!
(By: Dr Rajath Athreya, Senior Consultant & HOD Paediatrics & Neonatology, Sakra World Hospital, Bengaluru)

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