Keep children away from screen

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) guidelines on exposure of babies and children to technology, specifically mobiles, smart phones, video games, televisions etc, are meant to address an issue that most parents across the world are confronted with. Many attempts have been made to study the exposure of children to these devices and gadgets and to determine the desired level of exposure as part of scientific and social research. The WHO’s advisory is based on findings of such research. It says that infants below the age of two should not be exposed to electronic devices with screens at all, and children between the ages of two and four must not be allowed sedentary screen time for more an hour a day. It is the first time that the WHO has issued such guidelines and they have come just before last week’s worldwide annual Screen Free Week.

The guidelines are timely and relevant because large sections of children worldwide are increasingly getting access to portable and static screens. This is because of the increasing role of communications and entertainment technology in the daily lives of people, and children get involved in it. They are given screens to play with or to watch, as a means of distraction or for other reasons. Many parents do not care to spend time with children or do not have time for that. Some boast that at such a small age the child has mastered the mobile or the TV. The advisory draws attention to the damage early exposure to screens does to the physical and mental development of children. Their cognitive and emotional development and social skills are impaired by prolonged screen viewing. It creates a sense of isolation and loneliness among children. Excessive exposure has a negative impact on physical health and often makes children prone to illnesses. 

The WHO recommends enhancing physical activity, reducing sedentary time and ensuring quality sleep to improve children’s wellbeing. They need to develop their social skills with direct interaction with other children and adults within the family and outside. For babies, the WHO recommends that they spend at least 30 minutes a day on their stomach and for children under five three hours of physical activity. The guidelines represent the views of many other organisations and experts who have studied the issue of children's exposure to technology. Many of them believe that it is better to delay the introduction of such devices into children’s lives as much as possible. This is not easy in an age of nuclear families and media explosion but parents should take the message seriously in the interest of their children's wellbeing. 

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