Surge in smartphone addiction among Kashmiri children; Experts warn of disaster

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In today’s digital world, it seems normal to see our children addicted to their phones, searching for various forms of entertainment and information online. While parents seem to be least bothered about the growing trend, the child experts believe it is equally important for children and adolescents to manage their screen time appropriately before developing smartphone addiction which may affect the mental health of children.

The experts in valley underline a series of the adverse effects of mobile addiction and screen-based technology on children’s psychology in Kashmir. They said that the children and adolescents are witnessing major psychological issues due to mobile addiction, gaming and the widespread use of digital devices in their daily lives.

They further said that early exposure to mobile screen and addiction of gaming may increase one’s susceptibility to developing health problems.

An independent research done by Kashmir based psychological and Child expert Muzzafar Ahmed, Danishwar Rasool Dar, and Dr. Rameez, accessed by the news agency—Kashmir News Observer (KNO) state that the invention of the Mobile Phones, and the peculiar ways in which people are utilising the technology had prompted questions about whether improper usage of it could lead to addiction.

Nearly three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, screen usage has increased exponentially, especially among children, and as per a recent study published in JAMA Paediatrics, the average amount of time children spend staring at screens has risen 52 percent since the beginning of the pandemic.

According to a study conducted by the Kashmiri trio, some of the addictive characteristics in children is excessive permission given by some parents to their children for gaming in order to have some mental peace for a short period of time, and in single child cases, families who do not have anyone to play outdoor games with are showing more interest in mobile gaming to overcome their loneliness.

“Busy parents or Emotional Dependency: In today’s world, most parents are too preoccupied with their jobs and businesses to provide their children with adequate emotional support. Here children are taking emotional support from mobile gaming and becoming dependent,” the study reads. “The addictiveness of smartphones, immersion and role-playing in many games allow players to create their own character, leading them often in a fantasy world that can be heavily influenced by their actions within it.”

It reads: “Players can get highly attached to these characters and the world they live in. Sadly, becoming over-attached to these fantasy worlds can lead to negligence towards real-world responsibilities.”

Dr Muzzafar Ahmed, consultant clinical psychologist at Composite Regional Centre (CRC) Bemina, Srinagar while speaking about the side effects of mobile gaming told KNO that from a psychological perspective, it was found that depression and anxiety are associated with gaming addiction in children, and same findings are reported regarding adults. “Anxiety can be triggered gradually in heavy users when their smart phones are unavailable.”

The study further states that communication problems or a lack of social engagement, attention and concentration problems, behavioural problems, Avoidance of developmental tasks, negative role model issues, habits and disinterest in other aspects of life, and physical problems are all listed as side effects of mobile gaming and fallout of phone addictiveness.

Prof. Dr. Reyaz Malik, a prominent paediatrician in the valley, while expressing concern over the mobile addiction among children, told KNO that excessive usage of mobile screens affects the brain development of the child.

“There is a considerable increase in mobile addiction, not just among children but also among adults, but these smartphones usually leave negative mental health aspects in children because their brains are in developing phase,” Dr. Malik said.

He said there are some signs which parent should be aware which indicate that their children are addicted towards smartphones and on the higher side are improper timing of sleep, being anxious, expressing anger or exhibiting aggressive behavior or prefer isolation.

Urging the parents, Dr. Malik said that parents should set an example by spending time with their families and children after they finish their day’s work.

“Parents should keep their phones away and keep a family time wherein they will speak and be with their kids rather than being on phone, no screen time should be given space during family time. And even if the screen time is permitted, the exposure should be age-based and calculated,” he added.

The study, while mentioning the prevention measures, states that parents should spend a lot of time with their children and always be there for them emotionally, and not let them play video games when they’re with you.

“Make other physical activities or outdoor sports a part of the child’s life as well. If children show some aggressive behaviour, as a parent, you must set boundaries and explain that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable. Be firm and demonstrate that such behavior carries consequences like time-out or being kept away from a favourite activity for the day,” the study reads.

It states that parents should teach their children alternative ways to express their feelings—ways that are socially acceptable and should encourage them to pursue other hobbies and interests, particularly sports and other physical activities—(KNO)

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