It’s 11 at the night. You should be sleeping but you’re scrolling Instagram and enjoying reels on your smartphone. Tomorrow, you’ll wake up in the morning and go to work, where you’ll work on your computer or laptop for 7-8 hours. Then you’ll get back home and you’ll turn on your TV.

So how is this excess screen time going to affect your brain and body?

Screen time is the amount of time one spends on a device having a screen such as a television, computer, smartphone etc. Screens are an integral part of our lives these days. People are using handheld devices like smartphones and tablets for nearly everything. In today’s technology-driven world, many parents keep their children entertained by handing them phones or tabs. Nothing else draws children’s attention more than screens do. But parents don’t understand the fact that humans are not evolved to stare at bright screens all day. It can lead to several health issues like obesity, poor brain development in young children and disturbed sleep patterns.

What should be the ideal screen time?

According to the World Health Organization,  there should be no screen time for babies under 2 years of age and for those aged 2 to 4, it should not be more than one hour per day. Similarly, for children aged 5 and above as well as adults, screen time should not be more than 2 hours every day.

What is screen addiction?

Just like drugs, tobacco and alcohol, screen time can become an addiction if not managed properly. This happens when we use too much of screen devices, for example – watching YouTube videos,  scrolling Instagram/Facebook, watching too much TV etc.

Studies show most adults check their phones every 10-12 minutes.

What does screen addiction looks like?

  • Loss of interest in other activities like playing a sport, or reading a book.
  • Unable to control or manage screen use and even dishonest to ourselves about the time of usage.
  • Distracts us from face-to-face conversation.

Negative effects of screen addiction

  1. Affect on early childhood development and learning– Rapid development occurs in children under the age of 3. These children found it difficult to learn from videos but they learn from their surroundings like by exploring environment, observing parents, live interaction with them and imitating them. Excessive exposure to screens can inhibit their ability to observe and explore.
  2. Affect on language and communication– Language development speeds up rapidly between 1.5-3 years of age. Children learn to communicate by interacting with adults and not by watching cartoons on TV.
  3. Impaired emotional development- Excess screen time prevents them from dealing with boredom, distress and emotions.
  4. Behavioural problems– Studies show that young children who spend more than 2 hours on screen everyday exhibit symptoms of ADHD like hyperactivity, inattention and impulsiveness. Parents often complain that it is very difficult to get their children off a screen. They show tantrums, whine and even get physical sometimes.
  5. Impaired academic performance– It is found that children who spend a lot of time watching TV during their elementary school years do not perform well in their reading tests, are poor in taking decisions and cannot concentrate.
  6. Vision problem– Increased cases of myopia, short-sightedness are found in young children. This is due to spending more time on screen and lack of sunlight which is necessary for eye development. Also staring at the screen for too long causes Computer Vision Syndrome having symptoms like blur vision, dry eyes, strain, headaches etc.
  7. Obesity– It occurs because of a sedentary lifestyle, eating unhealthy while watching TV and physical inactivity.
  8. Sleep problems– In humans, as the sunset, our circadian rhythm comes to the role and there is the production of melatonin (sleep hormone). But the blue light emitted from electronic devices suppress melatonin and prevents getting a sound sleep.
  9. Chronic neck and back pain– Poor posture while enjoying the screen can lead to chronic neck and back pain.
  10. Depression and anxiety– Increased screen time can harm the mental and emotional well-being of a person thus increasing the chances of depression and anxiety.

How to reduce screen time?

  1. Make a screen-free bedroom- TV, phones, and laptops interfere with sleeping, thus try to keep most of them out of the bedroom. Try keeping the screens in the communal area.
  2. Create a screen time schedule for children and plan what your child views on screen.
  3. Manage your own screen time– Establish a screen time limit because what you do your children will copy. Instead, replace your phone with a book, this will show the child that books can also be as entertaining. You can make rules for everyone at home like
  • Keep mealtime, family time and bedtime screen-free.
  • No screens 1 hour before bedtime.
  1. Co-watch with your child whenever possible– This will help them to understand what they’re watching. Engage with them, and discuss what to see and what not to.
  2. Encourage active screen time– Accompany your child to do yoga or stretching while watching TV.
  3. Encourage other activities– By providing new and more exciting activities like doing a puzzle, playing board games and playing outside with friends, you can keep your child entertained even without a screen.
  4. Taking short breaks– For adults who work on the screen for 7-8 hours, it is necessary to take short breaks in every 50 minutes. During this time, you can take a walk, have coffee, stretch your body and relax.
  5. Also emphasize proper nutrition, exercise and sound sleep.

With small changes in routine, you can manage screen time and prevent its ill effects.

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