Lack of options for outdoor activities has put kids at the mercy of smart devices

Stuck at home due to Covid-19 restrictions, children in Bangladesh turned to technology to stay connected with the outside world for a year and a half, which meant an increase in screen time. Photo: Chakma Orchid


Stuck at home due to Covid-19 restrictions, children in Bangladesh turned to technology to stay connected with the outside world for a year and a half, which meant an increase in screen time. Photo: Chakma Orchid

We all know the sight by now: everyone in a family – adults, children, parents – sitting together, but everyone focusing on their personal device, usually a smartphone or tablet. We are so familiar that we have also accepted it as our reality. Those of us who can’t stand the awkwardness of certain social contexts are even grateful that we have something else to look at, which makes us feel busy or busy. However, with regard to the use of these devices by children, it is clear that such daily and prolonged exposure to screens is indeed worrying because it can have long-term harmful effects on them.

With the increased ease of access to high-speed internet and compact devices, children have been introduced to screens over the past decade or so from a young age. It has been, in a way, fascinating to see how quickly some babies can master the operation of smart devices without any help. Busy parents even find comfort in the fact that at least their child is sitting in one place, busy with something, instead of running or hurting themselves while they – the parents – are working outside or around. of the House.

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But smart devices are unreliable babysitters. While the child is occupied with one thing (and one place) for hours on end, that thing is a screen that not only affects their health – physical and mental – but also eliminates their desire to do something else that is productive. And at no other time has the effects of this been clearer than in the past year and a half of the Covid-19 pandemic and online schooling.

A recently published research article titled “Prevalence and Impact of Electronic Gadget Use on Child Health in Secondary Schools in Bangladesh: A Cross-sectional Study,” reveals just how dependent students have been on technology. The study was conducted among 1,803 secondary school students (grades 6 to 10) from English and Bangladeshi middle schools as well as madrasas, between June and December 2020.

Presumably, it is because of online lessons that children spend more time in front of screens. However, for the year 2020, only around 25% of survey participants, out of over 87% who reported using any form of electronic gadgets, used them to take online courses. According to the report, most students (around 39%) used smartphones and other devices to watch cartoons or movies, followed by almost 30% using them for other reasons.

Either way, one thing that came out clearly from the study was that student engagement with screens increased during the Covid-19 pandemic. While 33.5% of students reported using gadgets for more than two hours per day in 2019, this proportion rose to almost 53% in 2020. The overall percentage of respondents using these gadgets, at least five hours per day day, was also three times higher. compared to 2019. And while about 28% said they spent less than two hours a day indulging in outdoor activities, almost 27% said they did not spend at all. time outdoors, or spent so little time there that they would not. Worth to be considered.

So what is such an increase in the use of electronic devices by children?

With in-person classes remaining closed for 543 days since March 2020 – and reopened in phases just a month ago – children have had to endure the shock of drastically changing their daily routines. Not only were they now pursuing one of the most important aspects of their lives – their education – through screens, but they were also deprived of all the perks of going to school, like having a circle of peers and being able to. socialize with them. through conversation and shared activities.

In our cities, where playgrounds are becoming scarce year after year, school is often the only place where many children have the chance to play outside, to be physically active, and thus to avoid addiction to children. screens. It is therefore not shocking that the study also revealed a growing trend in the use of gadgets ranging from children living in rural areas to those in suburban areas and then to those in urban areas. So while just over 90 percent of urban respondents reported using some form of gadget, the percentage was somewhat lower, at around 84 percent, for rural participants. Higher technological dependence was also observed among students from more solvent families.

Regardless of their location and financial situation, the study’s most concerning findings hold true across the board: the harmful physical and mental effects of children’s technological dependence. For example, respondents who spent more than six hours a day with gadgets were more than twice as likely to have regular headaches as those who spent an hour or less doing the same. What’s more, more than half of those who used gadgets for more than two hours also reported feelings of depression and trouble sleeping.

In contrast, participants who reported less than an hour of daily gadget use reported significantly fewer cases of headaches, backaches, depression, sleep disturbances, and visual disturbances. Pain in the limbs was the problem most experienced by this group, but this too in only about a quarter of them. This is in stark contrast to the nearly 50 percent, on average, of participants who reported using electronic devices for more than two hours per day, who also suffered from various forms of the aforementioned physical and mental disorders.

However, the simplest solution to the increased dependence on screens would be to decrease and limit the time that children spend glued to these devices. But before parents remove their children’s laptops, smartphones, and / or tablets, it can also help to take a minute to visualize the child’s perspective.

As children begin to return to school in person, students in grades other than fifth and those applying for SSC (for 2021 and 2022) attend classes only a few days a week at most. Schools that have the infrastructure to do so are still heavily dependent on online education. It will therefore take some time before children can stop looking at their screens to continue their education. And as long as they’re trapped at home, especially those who live in urban areas, their only solace may lie in these electronic gadgets, which they can use to stay connected and informed about the outside world.

Instead of placing general restrictions on their screen time, it may be more helpful for parents and guardians to discuss with children first why spending too much time on electronic gadgets is unhealthy for them. mental and physical well-being. Limits can then be applied in phases, allowing them to eventually get used to using their devices for online lessons and then for a set leisure time each day. Not only will this help build trust between caregiver and child, but it can also inspire children to monitor themselves and regulate the time they spend with screens. But parental supervision is the key to any desirable change.

That said, the problem of online and offline classroom arrangements and the lack of outdoor spaces for children, which is in part responsible for their increased reliance on screens, is something parents cannot fix. This will require interventions from higher authorities.

Afia Jahin is a member of the editorial team of The Daily Star.

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