Too much screen time is bad for your child’s wellbeing

Spending hours looking at the screen is harmful for your child in more ways than one

Kid watching TV while eating junk food french fries, screen time

The rates of childhood obesity, juvenile hypertension and other childhood diseases have been on an alarming uptrend, thanks to unmitigated screen time that has become the norm of our age.  “Screen time” defined as the time spent in front of a screen such as television, tablets, phone and other electronic gadgets.

There are three critical factors that shape a child’s health

  1. Nutrition
  2. Activity levels
  3. Sleep

How could something as simple as watching TV or browsing on a  tablet or phone interfere with these, you ask. Let’s find out…

Nutrition

Nutrition is about eating healthy food and eating in the right proportion. Children are intuitive eaters; they tend to be more in touch with their body and hunger cues as compared to adults. However, they lose the ability to know how much they should eat when they are distracted by devices or when their plate is filled with processed food.

There was a time when parents or grandparents used to carry the child and tell them stories while feeding them. Today’s harsh reality is that we see parents feeding their children while the latter have their eyes glued to some screen. In order to ensure that their children eat faster and with minimum fuss, parents allow them to watch cartoons or play games on these devices. As children don’t realise what and how much they eat, they are more likely to have digestive and metabolic problems by their early teens.

With the food industry targeting parents and children with their well-planned advertising campaigns, consuming foods marketed by them as healthful is very common. Further, with celebrities endorsing such products, children love to consume them. Parents prefer to fill their children’s lunch/snack box with the latest products launched in the market as it is easier and less time consuming [and promoted as healthy] as compared to traditional homemade snacks.

Most of these products contain hydrogenated fat [the type that clogs the arteries], artificial flavours and colours, thickening agents and preservatives. These are known carcinogens and harmful to the body’s metabolism and are linked to issues such as ADHD, Autism, and depression. They also contain other toxic chemicals, MSG [mono sodium glutamate] and high amounts of sugar and salt, added to increase the shelf life and taste of the product.

Dr. David Kessler in his book, ‘The End of Overeating’ says that consuming foods with high amounts of sugar and salt causes a change in the taste buds and brain’s chemistry.

Subsequently, naturally sweet /normal home food will not please the tongue. This explains why children who are exposed to such junk food want to snack only on those, and never try real fruits, vegetables or fresh homemade food.

What you should do

In order to ensure that your children eat right, be the role model. When parents start eating healthy and fresh food, it will inspire and motivate the younger ones to try those. Involve the younger ones in grocery shopping , cooking and avoid bribing them with gadgets or food.

Activity Levels

It is recommended that up to the age of 21, we should have physical activity of 60-90 minutes per day. With the ever-increasing pressure of study load and performance, children don’t get enough time to play outdoors. Playtime now means sitting in one place playing video games, watching videos or using social networking sites. As their device usage increases, their physical activity, social interaction, and attention span reduces.

Little do we realise the effect of devices on their brain and behaviour. Several studies have already pointed out that there is a delay in cognitive development in children who are exposed to too much electronic media. Additionally, since their skull is not as hard as that of adults, the radiations from mobile/tablet/gadgets can easily penetrate their skull and cause damages in their brain.

What you should do

Give them your attention and not a gadget. Encourage your children to play real games; keep video games away. This will not only improve their fitness, immunity, attention span and social skills, but will also ensure their brain develops faster.

Sleep

Both the issues detailed above create a third issue. The chemicals and sugar in the junk food keeps the brain excited and lack of physical activity compounds it by not making the body tired enough to sleep. As a result, children don’t sleep on time, which disrupts theirsleep cycle. Parents again give children gadgets or turn on the television to calm them down. This only does the opposite.

The light emitted by these devices are largely from blue light spectrum, which is outside human visibility spectrum. The blue light prevents the pineal gland from secreting the sleep hormone melatonin, and interferes with the circadian rhythm and sleep cycle. Good quality sleep is a non-negotiable factor for immunity and physical and cognitive growth in children.

What you should do

Create a healthy sleep routine and stick to it. Avoid gadgets an hour before bed time and move the television from the bedroom to another room. Use this time to connect with family. Either coach your child to sleep by themselves or sing lullabies and read stories to them to make them sleep.

Final words

As parents earn more, and spend less time with the children, they compensate it with things like processed food, gadgets, and other indoor game consoles. Though these things keep children engaged, we often forget their real need and the negative effects of these conveniences.

One of the best ways to show care and love to your children is to make fresh homemade food and spend quality time with them. This will improve their immunity, metabolism and mental health which will equip them to be fit and sound for a whole life.

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