Mobile-addict kids: It's a ticking time bomb

Excessive use of a mobile phone increases the risk of diseases like obesity and hypertension in children. They may face lifestyle disorders, including excess weight, reduced appetite and irritability. Parents, by far, are responsible for such health issues in children

Deepanshu MishraDeepanshu Mishra   2 Sep 2019 5:47 AM GMT

"Bhai, a guy is coming from that side, do a headshot…headshot…"

A gunshot is heard and Shaurya, a student of Class 6, hugs his elder brother Devagra.

Devagra and Shaurya are busy playing PUBG, an online game on the smartphone wherein they had already shot an enemy dead. Used to spending numerous hours over smartphones every day, both the brothers are happy, but their parents are not.

A few years ago, these brothers who study in a reputed school of Lucknow used to bicycle, play football and have fun with other kids in the park in their free time, but now they prefer remaining indoors mostly. They are always on the look-out for the mobile phone so they may play games and watch videos.

The World Health Organization (WHO) had in 2018 declared online gaming as a mental health disorder. As per WHO, gaming disorder is an out-of-control impulse about gaming which adversely affects day-to-day activities. In the recent update of the International Classification of Diseases, WHO has recognized the gaming addiction much akin to that of cocaine and gambling.


Gunjan Singh, the mother of Devagra and Shaurya said, "Soon after returning from school they (the boys) want the mobile phone on which together they sometimes watch cartoons or violent videos uploaded on YouTube. I don't know how to rid them of this habit."

Dr Shally Awasthi, head of Pediatrics in one of India's biggest medical colleges, King George's Medical College (KGMU) enumerates the ill-effects of mobile usage upon health. "Excessive use of mobile phones leads mostly to mental illnesses among children. They look at the phone screen keeping it very close to their eyes which affects their vision both near and far. Besides, the children using mobile phones excessively don't go out to play and hence fall prey to ailments like obesity and hypertension," she said.

She added: "A child who uses mobile phone starts living out an imaginary life, far from reality. He reduces his physical activities. Such a child gets distanced from his peers, family and relations. His social skills remain under-developed."

Dr Shally Awasthi, head of Pediatrics in King George's Medical College (KGMU)

Not only older kids but also thousands of those studying in nursery and KG are becoming mobile phone victims. Five-and-a-half-year-old Duggu must have a mobile phone to be fed; sometimes he even forgets to chew while watching videos. Duggu's father, a journalist from Lucknow is thoroughly vexed and worried about his habit of TV and Mobile phone watching. Doctors refer to this love for mobile phones as 'mobile phone addiction' medically.

Excessive use of mobile leads to several ailments in children -- symptoms of a few not easily discernible as others. In bigger cities like Lucknow and Delhi, the number of such patients in on a constant rise.

After China, India has the largest number of mobile phones. As per a report published on the website Bank May Sale, India has about 38 crores 69 lakh smartphone users. As per doctors, homes where grownups use mobile phones in excess, children too get into this habit.

Dr Amit Arya, assistant professor in the psychiatry department, KGMU said: "As per the researches conducted in India and abroad, homes that have parents and sibling using a mobile phone in excess will also have its excessive use amongst children. Many pieces of research have shown that mobile and internet addiction is very much like cocaine addictions — its victim gets desolate upon its absence. "

He added: "We refer to this as a pragmatic disorder. Children spending far too much time in front of the TV and mobile phones may suffer from lifestyle disorders like obesity, lack of appetite and irritability etc."

Dr Amit Arya, assistant professor, psychiatry department, KGMU

Last year, many incidents were heard of children's deaths owing to certain mobile games. This problem may escalate further as the number of children carrying a mobile phone is on the rise. As per a report of Ericsson -- world's leading company in the field of information and technology -- nearly more than half of teens and kids reaching teens have a mobile phone each.

Upset over his kids' habit of mobile phone, Lucknow's Sarvendra Bahadur Singh said: "My kids always want a mobile phone in their hands. No sooner they come from school than they grab the mobile to play games and watch cartoons. They imitate the language of cartoons in their routine conversations. It has come to such a level that we have to hide our phones."

Many doctors hold parents responsible for mobile addiction among their kids. "Not being able to spend time with their child or to placate the latter they gift him a gadget. So, the child is made to believe that he holds the key to make his parents fulfil all his desires. See, if you have family, you have to spare time for it," said Dr Shally.

Not only doctors but also teachers believe that it is the parents who drive their kids towards mobile addiction. Divya Arora, a school teacher, opines quite frankly on the issue. "Parents, and not the school, have bred the habit of mobile usage in the children. Parents had an excellent form of communication with the school –the school diary which they avoided utilizing due to their said lack of time. How much phone-time is to be allowed to a child, it doesn't concern them. Kids resort to Google instead of poring through books for former's fast and easy access."

Dr Amit said: "When a kid plays a game, he continues playing it because he gets a sense of progressing through levels which is rewarding. This leads to his addiction to the mobile phone. Whether knowingly or not, parents do play a major role in pushing their kids towards TV and mobile phones. When one is at home one must be actively be communicating with the children-instead one keeps busy with the phone."


How do we then deal with this malice making our children ill?

"I give an example, which I have read somewhere that Bill Gates, a revolutionary in modern information technology, had kept his children away from phones and computers when they were small. We do not understand such things. Parents should not pride over their child's ability to operate a mobile phone. Instead, they must spend adequate quality time with the child so that the latter finds no need for a mobile phone. Do not attempt to disengage from your child by handing him a phone," said Dr Shally.

While appealing to parents to give more time to their children she also exhorts the government to issue some guidelines to the effect. "Cigarettes and pan masala come with a statutory warning that they are potentially harmful to human health, I think even mobile phones should bear such warnings. Do not allow mobile half-an-hour before sleep-time as the same will be carried into his dreams hampering sound sleep. Sound sleep helps optimize hormones' activity which further promotes children's physical as well as mental development," informed Dr Shally.

Ways to curb a child's mobile addiction

"To put a stop to all this, we may have to create awareness. Presently we have nuclear families wherein besides two parents the third is a child with his mobile. So, we will have to direct the parents to help each other and work in coordination. The father must look after the child when the mother works and vice versa instead of substituting their parenting effort with the mobile," says Dr Shally.

Dr Amit informed: "One wishing to rid one's child of mobile addiction must lead by example and stop using mobile in front of the child because children learn quicker by watching. One must not compensate for absence or love with gadgets. Seek professional help from psychiatrists or psychologists if the child seems to be in advance stages."


Doctors' advice:

A child below three years of age must not have any screen exposure be it TV or mobile.

A child should be given consistent parents' company rooting out the need for any mobile phone.

Mobile phone addiction-symptoms: loss of appetite, irritability, irascible behaviour, angst, boredom

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