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Posted at: Sep 8, 2018, 1:22 AM; last updated: Sep 8, 2018, 1:23 AM (IST)

Time to screen the screen time

Screen dependency disorder is as real as it gets. Blame it on the dominating presence of gadgets in our lives
Time to screen the screen time

Ashima Sehajpal Batish

A 13-year-old, without looking into the eye, confesses to the offence. A night before, she was coerced by her mother to study for her impending exams — and to hand over the cell phone. Ten minutes later, on an impulse, she took to scissors and her mom’s almirah. Engulfed with vengeance and rage, she ripped all her mother’s clothes. When the morning threw light on the crime, an appointment was fixed with a psychiatrist. The family feared that she suffered from some dreaded mental issue. “She was diagnosed with screen dependency disorder (SDD),” says Simmi Waraich, a Chandigarh-based psychiatrist. Its initial symptoms were restlessness and tumbling grades. Last year, in April, Dr Aric Sigman, a US-based psychologist authored the research paper on SDD — Screen Dependency Disorders: A New Challenge for Child Neurology. It concluded, “Various screen activities are reported to induce structural and functional brain plasticity in adults…. Digital natives exhibit a higher prevalence of screen-related ‘addictive’ behaviours that reflect impaired neurological reward-processing and impulse-control mechanisms.”

Dr Waraich next enquired about the number of hours that the young girl would spend with the phone. “The mother couldn’t answer that because ever since the daughter was 11, she has owned a phone.”

The what-to-do to raise healthy kids list has become lengthier with time. But, when was this rocket science! Nutritional diet, hygiene and physical activity would sum up the theory of voluminous child-raising books or online guides. So, what led to more bullet points and their expansive texts on bringing up a child? 

Ask parents who falter each time they hand over the glitzy gadget to a preschooler as barter to finishing a meal or a reward for completed homework. Jagpreet Singh and his wife, Pavneet, make for one such parent couple. They will tell you how a website, which majorly caters to parents in the UK, informed them about screen dependency disorder and how they are trying, though in vain, to reduce the screen time of their four-year-old.

There are times when they succeed. The kid, at a public place, with a mayonnaise-dripping kiddie burger on the plate, gives in to temptation, and ‘ultimate wish’ of mom and dad — to not watch his favourite cartoon. “And then, on the next table, you have a couple munching into their food, with their child glued to a car-racing game. Our son leaves food, and us, to be with his new friends — the other boy and his phone,” says Jagpreet. He realised something was amiss when his son stopped taking instructions to give undivided attention to iPad. 

The gadget was a gift to the kid on his birthday. “He started with paintings apps, and then got bored. We made him switch over to rhymes. Interest in these lasted for a few months.” When he discovered games on his own, the parents felt elated with the display of child’s intelligence. “But it grew into a concern six months later when the child bitterly started crying for phone each morning. Half-done school work was another consequence.” 

Psychologists and psychiatrists say that SDD has nothing to do with age. Rightly so: Children are getting addicted to games just as youngsters and adults are to social media and  videos. “I see a group of friends hanging out, each busy with a phone. I see couples on date, but busy with their phones. However, as a society, it only begins to worry us when a person becomes a recluse. By that time, it has become a disorder that needs to be medically treated,” says Meenakshi Rawal, a child counsellor. All reasons to be wary of the virtual. 

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