Career & Education

It might be time for a digital detox

Dr Karla Hylton

Sunday, October 08, 2017

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Today's world is indeed full of screens and there is no avoiding it. They are a useful and necessary part of daily life for most adults and students alike. I will not suggest getting rid of them as they are beneficial tools for learning as well as for recreation. However, if it is taking over your child's life and is negatively impacting his/her academic success, then it is time to be concerned.

Some children have developed an unhealthy connection to screens. For them, separation from these devices can feel unnatural and can actually cause anxiety. This is detrimental as it can lead to behavioural, emotional and academic problems. Some kids may even develop an addiction to screens which can be more difficult to treat than drug addiction.

If you feel that your child may be overly attached to a digital device, it may be time for a digital detox. This is simply a period of time spent away from smart devices. It could be as long as 4-6 weeks or it could be for a few hours each day.

Here are some signs to watch out for that could indicate that your child has an unhealthy attachment to screens:

• Sleep deprivation — is your child getting enough sleep? Many kids who are supposedly in bed, spend much of the night texting friends or engaging in inappropriate online behaviour. This will definitely cause a deficit in learning. Be on the lookout for signs of lack of sleep such as tiredness, drowsiness in the day, lack of focus, etc.

• Hostile behaviour — studies have linked aggressive behaviour to violent or destructive media such as some computer games.

• Frequent headaches — this could be a sign of too much screen time.

• Weight gain — spending too much time with screens increases the risk of packing on pounds, simply because it is a sedentary activity.

• Vision problems — Staring at a computer or phone screen for extended periods can lead to eye strain and pain.

• Aches and pains — The head, neck and wrist are subject to aches and pains from too much screen time due to the angle at which they are held. This can worsen with time and often leads to more serious issues.

• Loss of social skills — many kids nowadays find it difficult to engage in face-to-face conversations. This is due to the fact that social media and text messaging are the preferred method of maintaining connections. The irony is that while they may find in-person conversations awkward, they may be quite brazen through texting.

Striking a Balance

Since the technology is here to stay, the best thing for us parents and caregivers to do is find effective ways to manage our children's interaction with it. We are not powerless. Let's discover ways of balancing the time they spend on screens and time spent otherwise, as it is critical to their development.

Here are some ideas for creating healthy digital habits:

• Get them moving — Find creative ways of replacing technology with good old-fashioned exercise. This has the added benefit of promoting good academic performance. You could take a family walk, a bicycle ride, racing, playing outdoor games or even dancing.

• No screens at bedtime Electronics should be turned off at least one hour before bedtime. The light that is emitted from screens has been shown to delay the release of the hormone melatonin, which helps you to fall asleep.

• No screens in the bedroom — Removing devices from the bedroom means that your kids cannot be tempted to text, call or play games at all hours of the night. Screen-based homework should be done in a public area.

• No screens at mealtime — It is poor manners to be on a device at mealtime. This takes away quality family time. It can also lead to overeating and hence weight issues. Try “phone stacking”, where everyone puts their device in the middle of the table.

• Turn off the wifi at certain times —This may not always be feasible but it is something to consider. If homework is to be done on a laptop, this can usually happen offline.

• Be a role model — Set a good example by putting down your own devices periodically. Lead by example and model a healthy balance.

Let us strive to have a wholesome and successful academic year!

Dr Karla Hylton is the author of

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