World Health Day 2019: Parents must lead by example, spend more time with kids

Nearly 90% of kids & adolescents globally are increasingly being exposed to online gaming.

Editor's Note: This story is the first in a three-part series on Parenting in the age of PUBG and gaming in light of recent reports about violence and mental health affecting children that play the game.

In a world where children are "growing up digital," it's important to help them learn healthy concepts of digital use. Parents play an important role in teaching these skills.

There is no doubt that the availability of gadgets and smartphones has made communication and access to knowledge not only convenient but also readily available. Despite these advances, parents need to be aware of the negative effects. It is extremely crucial for parents to understand and constantly learn that present-day technology changes the way kids socialize and interact with others, which can have a huge impact on their mental and emotional well-being. However, all types of technology can actually have negative effects on children when used in excess because they lower the frequency at which kids interact with their peers.

Studies have shown that almost 90 percent of children and adolescents around the world are increasingly getting exposed to online gaming.

Representational image. Image: tech2/Anirudh Regidi

There is now an overwhelming concern in the medical field that over-indulgence in online gaming may affect physical and mental health, social skills and relationships. It may also affect cognitive skills, attention and brain development as would any other form of substance or drug abuse. The American Psychiatric Association recently included Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD) as a potential diagnosis. The DSM-5 suggests that IGD may be identified if five or more of nine criteria are observed within a 12-month period.

These criteria include:

  • Preoccupation with games: The individual thinks about previous gaming activity or anticipates playing the next game; gaming becomes the dominant activity in daily life
  • Withdrawal symptoms: When gaming is taken away, symptoms typically described as irritability, anxiety, or sadness tend to surface
  • Tolerance: The need to spend increasing amounts of time engaged in games
  • Addictive behaviour: Unsuccessful attempts to control or reduce participation in games
  • Asocial and recluse behaviour: Loss of interest in real-life relationships, previous hobbies, and other entertainment as a result of, and with the exception of, games
  • Persistent gaming: Continued excessive use of games despite knowledge of psychosocial problems
  • Secrecy or Lying: Has deceived family members, therapists, or others regarding the amount of gaming
  • Gaming as a coping mechanism: Use of games to escape or relieve a negative mood (eg. feelings of helplessness, guilt, or anxiety)
  • Negatively effects his/her life: Has jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of participation in games.

Representative image.

A parenting guide

It is a well-known fact that prevention is better than cure. Restricting time spent on digital media, in this case, appears to be the only solution.

Also, adults must be the ones setting an example. According to a study published in the journal of the American Academy of Paediatrics, it was observed that 73 percent of caregivers (such as parents) tend to use their devices during a meal. Other important findings included the degree of absorption of adults with their mobile phones, the lack of response to children’s bid to attract attention and, in some cases, even harsh responses towards children. This further prompts children to use gadgets at meal time.

Screen-time should be totally discouraged below two years of age and restricted to a maximum to two hours for kids older than two. Gadgets are the new age baby sitters and have become the new-age medium of pacification or engagement for a child and often, parents give gadgets to children to keep them busy. This forms an interpersonal barrier because both adult and child are then relying on this technology to stay engaged instead of interacting with each other. As parents, we are responsible for modelling the kind of behaviour we want in our children.

We avoid personal interactions with family and friends, falling prey to the ‘constant networking’ illusion that our handheld devices provide us. Paediatricians from across the globe have cautioned parents against the various risks and health problems associated with increased screen time. Studies also show that watching TV is one of the factors that lead to obesity in children. A TV in your child’s bedroom is even more dangerous as his/her chance of being overweight is doubled.

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Engage in healthier activities

Here are some tips for your entire family to limit their screen time:

  • Kids aged two and above should spend a maximum of two hours in front of the TV or other electronic media. It is in the best interest of the child to avoid any screen time for kids below two years of age
  • Never fix a television in your kids’ bedroom or get a dedicated mobile/tablet for your kid. Establish a media-use plan for your family that includes curfews at bedtimes
  • Allow televisions and devices occasionally. On other days, involve yourself in healthy conversations that would bring a positive change for the entire family. This way you eat nutritious and healthy food as well
  • Allow your kids to select their favourite TV shows, giving them a sense of control and helping them make decisions. Supervise their show list and give them company whenever you can.
  • Monitor screen use in terms of number of hours per day and websites visited or browsed. Know your child’s friends and their screen use or preference
  • It is not enough to be vigilant and keep saying “turn it off”. Be innovative! For example, give "Screen-tickets" that are valid for half an hour each, like movie tickets, which can be cashed in as needed by your child in the entire day.

Always remember that our dependency on gadgets keep us constantly engaged and our preoccupation with our virtual lives is taking us further away from our human interactions. As quoted by Isaac Newton, "Every action has an equal and opposite reaction". This action of parents is going to have a strong effect on your child. Chances are that your child may become angry, resentful, and resort to different techniques for expressing that anger.

Changes in attitude, being extra stubborn, throwing unnecessary tantrums, being emotional, being violent, refusing to eat until the gadget is given are a few of the common traits and behavioural patterns that children resort to. But as a parent, with regular conditioning and by spending quality time with your kids, you can have a positive effect on your kids and be an instrumental force in helping them overcome IGD and gaming addition if they do have it.

Here's a look at the other stories from this series:

Parenting in the age of PUBG: Managing a child's screen-time is critical

The author is a Consultant Paediatrician at Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, Bangalore.

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