Whether you believe it’s ok for your kids to be on smartphones and other electronic devices, or whether you believe they should be avoided at all costs, it seems even the strongest critics have made exceptions and relaxed the rules during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But as the pandemic continues around the globe, it’s a worry that experts are observing that more children are showing symptoms of screen addiction and behaviour problems.
According to a report, a senior psychiatrist at the King George Medical University said he has been getting cases from parents concerned about their children who “were getting irritable, losing their appetite and also complaining of headaches and eye problems.”
Psychiatrists at the Moti Lal Nehru hospital in India have also reported “an increase in the number of parents bringing their children to them with problems of mobile addiction and behavioural changes.”
Commenting on the report, local human potential and parenting expert, Nikki Bush, affirms that from her experiences in lockdown, parents have doubled, and even tripled the amount of screen time they’ve allowed their kids.
“Mostly, it’s been a coping mechanism – to keep the kids busy while you get your own work done,” she says.
How mobile addiction is affecting kids’ behaviour
While Nikki says it’s generally accepted that in the short term, all this extra screen time is not going to be the end of the world for our kids, she says there’s no denying it is affecting their behaviour.
“With lockdown, everyone has been online to keep up with what’s happening, to work and connect with family and friends. As a result, boundaries have slipped,” she explains. “By being left unattended, to entertain themselves with your phone or iPad for long periods of time, our kids are getting used to doing things at their own pace, and in their own time. So, when they’re suddenly expected to do something, for example, taking the cup to the kitchen, it’s very likely they’ll be resistant or irritated.”
Likewise, she says that if they’ve been watching inappropriate content, for example, something scary or violent, they’ll react by being irritable and angry.
Many games kids play, she adds, are designed to be extremely immersive and you have to realise that kids tend to get lost in that world. When they have been playing for long, and they have to come out of that exciting world, they suddenly realise they don’t have control anymore, and they become frustrated.
What can parents do?
According to Nikki, even though you’ve extended screen time during COVID-19, your kids still need firm boundaries. For example, you can say, “You can play on mommy’s phone for x minutes while she finishes this report, but after that, I expect you to do XYZ, or we’re going to have a cup of tea together, or start supper together, or take Patches for a walk.”
She adds that it’s important that you also commit to getting offline to spend time together with your kids. “Give them something to look forward to,” she says. “Try to pull them out of that enticing world with something interactive and exciting. Remember, they’ve just been entertained, so you’re not going to get a positive reaction if you just tell them to put your phone down and go play outside. You have to make it appealing. “You can say that at 6pm you’re going to shut down and you’re going to challenge them to a game of XYZ. Winner gets a special dessert.”
Nikki points out that what our kids have been craving during COVID-19 is company. “They’re human after all, and they thrive on social interaction and love.”
That doesn’t mean you have to be your kids’ full-time entertainer, she says, but “it does mean that you have to show up for them – to fill that hole that used to be filled by sport and activities at creche. You have to provide the magic, wonder and surprise!
She says 4 to 6-year-old kids will generally require you to set something up for them, so she suggests you always have at least five activities at the back of your mind to entice them away from too much screen time. “You need to dangle that carrot in front of them for the path of least resistance,” she concludes.
More about the expert:
Award-winning speaker and best-selling author, Nikki Bush, helps individuals and teams to win at life and work. Her passion for connection and relationships, and how to maintain them in a fast-changing world, is at the core of everything she does as a human potential thought leader. Nikki is admired and respected in business, education and parenting circles for her work in raising human potential through leadership, engagement, resilience, connection and teamwork. She helps to create mission-ready individuals and organisations for everyday and future disruption. Learn more about Nikki Bush here.
Content editor and writer on Living & Loving, Sonya has over 25 years experience in the media industry. She edited Living & Loving magazine for six-and-a-half years and is the former editor of Longevity magazine. She’s won numerous media industry awards and is passionate about the health and wellbeing of moms and children.
Outside of work, she enjoys trying out recipes, reading crime mysteries and thrillers, practicing yoga, and exploring new destinations.
Learn more about Sonya Naudé.