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Smartphones are like two sides of a coin. While the world praises them for the technological smartness, astonishing features, and amazing tools for learning and growth, some aware sections of society are constantly warning us about their harmful impacts on children’s health. A research by Pew found that 95% of teens have access to smartphones in the U.S. Numerous clinical studies have shown that smartphones lead to insomnia and depression among adolescents.
A study of 3,134 adolescents by Sleep Research Society Oxford published in Journal Sleep revealed that kids who spend more time on screens face a loss of sleep, difficulty in staying asleep, and more depressive symptoms. Researchers in this study observed the reaction of the respondents to four screen-based activities which included social messaging, gaming, web surfing, and watching TV/movies. The study found that smartphones and gaming had the greatest effect on the children.
Are tech companies listening?
Every passing day, tech giants are unveiling new tools to combat the device addictions in teens and tweens. Google has introduced new controls for parents to manage the screen time of their kids. Similarly, YouTube Kids was launched some time back to hold off the exposure of inappropriate content to kids.
Similarly, Apple was reminded by its investors to create ways for parents to restrict children’s access to smartphones. A letter addressed to Apple Inc. by activist investor Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System urged the company to study the harmful effects of smartphones’ entrancing capacity on the mental health of children. The letter highlighted that an average American teenager spends over 4.5 hours a day on the phone.
Finally, Apple has also come up with new controls to allow its users to see the screen time of its users and how much of it is spent on different apps. This will empower parents to monitor their kids’ smartphone use.
On Monday, Apple announced new controls for devices that will allow users to see how much time they spend on their screens and different apps and set limits. It will also enable parents to use the system to monitor kids’ phone use.
Until these controls become useful, parents are relying more on monitoring apps and parental control apps like Xnspy to block certain apps and control the smartphone use of their kids.
So the question remains: How can we actually stop kids from staring at their screens? It isn’t easy getting children to change their habits. But even if teenagers hate being told what to do, parents have to take action.
Here are five ways parents can help mitigate the effects of smartphones on their kids:
1. Limiting Screen Time
The first issue with any smart device is the prolonged time kids spend on them all day. While there has not been enough evidence regarding the permanent eye damage caused by staring at the smartphone, there is enough research out there to emphasize the importance of limiting screen time. One report in Optometry in Practice says that up to 40% of the adults and 80% of the teens suffer from issues like eye strain, eye fatigue, and dryness of eyes due to excessive smartphone use.
If we keep staring at screens for long periods, it can cause spasm in specialized muscles that adjust the shape of the lens. Not blinking for a long time can lead to swollen or irritated eyes. Since children are ignorant of these things, they may face blurred vision and dry eye more early.
There are several fixes for controlling the screen time of the kids. It is better to advise your children to take a break every 20-60 minutes and allow their eyes to look far and wide. Remind them to blink often while using their phone. If the dryness becomes severe, use eye drops to keep the eyes hydrated.
2. Mind Your Posture
Spending hours over a mobile device in a stooping posture can be a pain in the neck, shoulders, and upper back regions. According to a study published in Surgical Technology International, when our head is in a neutral position, there is a pressure of 10 to 12 pounds on our head which is equal to the weight of our head. With a bend of just 15 degrees, the pressure rises to 27 pounds, and a 45-degree tilt increases the pressure to nearly 50 pounds. If we keep our posture stooped like this, it could lead to early damage to our cervical spine and may lead to surgery.
Similarly, excessive texting or scrolling can burden the soft tissues of our thumb or wrists. Though this may not necessarily lead to injury, it can be a warning sign for inflammation in tendons.
The best way to avoid posture issues is to keep changing it after every 15 mins. You can take short breaks after some time and keep moving your head. To have a more ergonomic setup, external keyboards can also be used.
3. Follow Your Sleep Cycle
A survey in Sleep Medicine published from 2009 to 2015 found that teenagers had a 15 percent more chance of reporting less than seven hours of sleep. The researchers concluded that digital devices were the main reason behind sleep deprivation in teenagers.
It is generally proposed that the blue light from the screen interferes with the natural production of melatonin. This is the main hormone responsible for maintaining our body’s sleep cycle. A study from Harvard University researched about the effects of evening use of light-emitting devices on sleep cycles and circadian timing. According to this research, men or women who used screens or read from them before bed showed a diminishing level of melatonin in the blood. These subjects took longer than usual to fall asleep. The researchers wrote in the study:
“We found that the use of portable light-emitting devices immediately before bedtime has biological effects that may perpetuate sleep deficiency and disrupt circadian rhythms.”
This, perhaps, is the most worrying and the first silent attack that leads to other major problems. Some devices have introduced “night mode” to mitigate the effects of blue light. This adjusts the brightness of your screen to a brighter hue. Some scientists who are working on this issue suggest banning your phone from the bedroom to avoid the temptation of using it. This will also help in breaking that ‘smartphone addiction’.
For kids, parents should make sure they follow their sleep timings religiously. American Academy of Sleep Medicine researchers say that bedtime routines must start as early as 5 years old. The years from 5-9 are the most important in improving sleep duration. And those who do not follow their sleep timing, report 30 mins less sleep on average each night. Another solution could be using the parental control apps for remotely locking kids’ devices.
4. Hygiene Matters
A microbiologist at the University of Arizona revealed that cell phones carry 10 times more bacteria than most toilet seats. The only difference is that while toilets are cleaned frequently, cellphones and other commonly handled devices are not cleaned routinely.
Smartphones are prone to germs all the times. People use phones even when they are in the toilets. However, the amount of germs is not the real concern. The problem multiplies many times when we share our phone with others.
80 percent of infections are caused by what we touch and it’s quite rare that we clean these ordinary items as regularly as we do other things. Another study in the University hospital of Nice in France found that blue-violet light from the smart devices creates hyperpigmentation in the skin that lasts up to three months. An average smartphone can have a range of bacteria on it including bacteria that cause food poisoning (E. coli) and influenza virus.
Handwashing or even hand sanitizers are no defense when it comes to the germs on our phones. Microbiologists recommend cleaning the phone with a damp microfiber cloth at least once a day. Educate your kids about the harms of using phones in toilets and forbid them from taking phones in the bathroom. Another solution could be using disinfectant wipes especially made for the electronic devices. They may help neutralize more tenacious bacteria.
5. Break Free from the Addiction
Although there has been a growing emphasis on smartphone companies to self-regulate, it’s difficult to create regulations until there is more concrete research. The best way to mitigate the effects would be to break free from cell phone addiction by swimming against the stream of notifications. Technologically, we are at the tipping point of new innovations. We are amazed by the smartness of the devices around us but their addiction is taking the toll on our lives. Education and following some everyday tips help a long way. Remember that the technology around us is not neutral. These smart devices are programmed to exploit our weaknesses and emotions. Don’t let your kids overload with push notifications about nothing. Disabling notifications of every kind would be even better.
As is the case with every other technology, a smartphone is like a double-edged sword. It is a tremendous tool for learning. However, keeping moderation and balancing its use goes a long way in ensuring the well-being of our children.