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The hard lesson


By Sneha MahaleFrom lethargy, insomnia to anxiety and eye issues, staring at the computer screen for long hours has started to take a toll on children


Thirteen-year-old Myra Khan would spend hours checking and rechecking her school assignments after attending her daily online classes. The Class 8 student of a Bandra school remained anxious for hours about having missed something important.

“I also had to check in a particular order to avoid mixing up things. If a mix-up happened, I would start the whole process again. I was unable to stop myself and thought I was going crazy,” she says. Myra’s parents took her to a psychiatrist. “She was assessed by psychological tests and started on medications and counselling-therapy sessions,” says Dr Shaunak Ajinkya, consultant, psychiatrist, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital.

According to the Annual Status of Education Report, one third of schoolchildren in India were pursuing online education and a smaller fraction of this 32.5 per cent were doing live online classes prior to the pandemic. With coronavirus keeping schools shut most of the year, more educational institutions took the online route to cover the academic calendar.

This has resulted in a surge of students logging in, often for hours at a stretch and the excessive screen time is causing health problems. Experts have noticed a spike in the number of cases of children complaining about back, neck and eye problems like myopia and dry eyes. Obesity, muscle pain and lack of adequate sleep is also common. “There has been a noticeable rise in the number of cases of children having issues due to spending excessive time online. Around 50 per cent of consultations these days are related to health problems of children spending long hours glued to the screen,” says Dr Ajinkya.

Spot the signs


According to doctors, the most common complaints are of back pain, lethargy, headache, irritation and/or swelling/redness/burning sensation in the eyes, neck and shoulder pains, and reduced appetite. Children are also having a hard time concentrating during the online classes, getting easily distracted or forgetful.

Vivaan Khanna, a 16-year-old student studying in class 10 of an Andheri-based school, complained of incessant back pain, with the problem growing to such an extent that he needed physiotherapy and medications to resume classes.

“It’s vital that you take your child to a specialist who can give you a correct diagnosis, especially with incorrect posture which requires immediate medical attention. Also keep an eye out for changes in the behaviour such as agitation, defiant behaviour, insomnia and anxiety which requires immediate attention. These are the potential problems of spending too much time online,” says Dr Suresh Birajdar, consultant, paediatrics and neonatology, Motherhood Hospital, Kharghar.

And while children belonging to all age groups could develop health issues, smaller children tend to be more susceptible as their analysis and problemsolving techniques are yet to develop completely. “So, they become restless easily and are distracted by their home environment or focus on their friends,” says Dr Ajinkya.

Long-term effects


Several studies have been conducted to understand the exact long-term effects of spending too much time in front of a screen. “Some of the clinical things that have been noted are posture difficulties, physical stress, obesity, metabolic disorders and malnutrition. Mentally, behavioral issues seem to be the forerunners. Frustration, increased aggression, reduced focus, susceptibility to mood disorders, substance abuse disorders and personality issues are frequently seen too,” says Dr Sonal Anand, psychiatrist, Wockhardt Hospital, Mira Road.

When to intervene


In most cases, the issue will resolve itself, like with Nyra Singh. The 14-year-old, studying in class 9 at a school in Powai, complained about dry eyes. She was given lubricants and suggested to take frequent breaks while accessing electronic gadgets. Higher levels of screen time are also associated with obesity, depression and suicidal ideations.

What parents can do


Schools must conduct online classes with breaks in between. This can reduce some strain without hampering learning. “Parents can also restrict screen time after online schooling and encourage some writing work instead. Family time should be set for playing, physical activity, mediation and yoga,” says Dr Anand.

Parents must also ensure that their children maintain a proper posture and try to strengthen the back and neck by stretching or doing appropriate exercises. “The computer and the mobile screen should be placed at eye level to prevent neck strain. Eat a protein-rich diet and keep your spine erect,” says Dr Birajdar.

► To manage screen time


Nandini Mullaji, chief strategy offi cer, Lido Learning, shares pointers:


■ Ensure a balance between on- and off-screen time by making playtime and entertainment offscreen as much as possible.

■ To avoid screen fatigue encourage taking notes on paper instead of on the computer. Not only will it exercise and strengthen the muscles, it will give the eyes a break.

■ Make sure your child gets enough sleep so that the brain and eyes both get the rest they need.

■ Adjust the brightness so it’s not too bright or too dark, and make the most of the natural light. Ensure the text size and contrast do not strain the eyes. Also use an anti-glare screen cover to reduce the blue light and glare.

■ Keep a plant or an artwork in cool blue or green near the study table to help focus the eyes away from the screen.



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