Indiranagar resident R Swathi’s 13-year-old son would spend hours playing PubG and FIFA games during summer vacations. It began affecting his concentration. Now, he is allowed only 20 minutes on the tablet or PlayStation. Swathi, however, found it a challenge to control the screen time of her 19-year old daughter. College assignments and projects required her to be plugged in. Several parents like Swathi are grappling with their children spending more time than before on digital devices due to schools and colleges integrating technology into learning.
While most parents dread this, banking executive Prakash Chander believes the present generation of youngsters is lucky to have the world at its fingertips, and that it’s impossible to avoid technology in this age. “My daughter introduced me to Twitter and it made me realise its power. I do reprimand her for being glued to her phone during meals or streaming shows late at night, but I have seen her worldview expand so much.”
Right from kindergarten, children are being exposed to screens both at school and home. Take for example international schools that have smart boards (interactive whiteboards with internet access) in classrooms or require senior students to do coursework on laptops. Academicians, too, say that it’s imperative to use technology in classrooms to enhance learning.
Dakshayani Kanna, principal, Harvest International School, says that while classrooms have become tech integrated, they are balanced with off-screen teaching as well. Also, the school conducts regular workshops on digital detox, cyber bullying and dangers of tech addiction. It was when morbid social media games like Blue Whale became popular in 2017 that senior students from the school came forward to counsel the younger kids after doing research. “When senior students caution the young, it works wonders as they look up to them,” she said.
It is not technology in classrooms that needs attention but gaming children do at home or with friends, says Kumar Jadhav, vice-principal, Kendriya Vidyalaya, Malleswaram. In fact, the World Health Organisation recently recognised ‘gaming disorder’ as a diagnosable condition. Despite mobile phones being banned in schools, children often carry them as they need to be in touch with parents if they go to extra classes post school. “We have been insisting they (parents) give them (children) basic phones, not smartphones. There have been instances of students displaying aggressive behaviour because of exposure to violent games and content,” Jadhav said.
While the government has not issued any direction to schools on technology addiction, it will take up the issue if parents or schools approach it, commissioner of Department of Public Instructions MT Reju said. Such phenomena had not been reported in any government schools, he said, adding students there are not as exposed to technology. “As far as private schools are concerned, school managements probably deal with the cases themselves,” he said.
REGULATE TECH USE: PSYCHOLOGISTS
The SHUT (Service for Healthy Use of Technology) clinic at Nimhans (National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences) specifically treats technology addictions. Professor Manoj Kumar Sharma, clinical psychologist, said while the productive effects of technology used in schools could not be denied, excessive use of technology leads to not only physical issues but also psychiatric distress. A 2017 study by NIMHANS of 2,755 individuals aged between 18 and 65 years from Bengaluru showed that almost 6.8% of mobile users and 5.3% with internet addiction had psychiatric distress. Dr Sharma said these respondents experienced high levels of stress and low self-esteem, but it was not clear whether it was solely due to their addiction or whether the content they watched was a factor.
Regarding physical effects of technology, Dr Sharma said, “Long hours of screen time may strain your eyes, neck and wrist. Children should be trained by the school itself on how they can relax themselves.” The methods include taking a break from viewing the screen every half an hour, making neck and wrist movements at regular intervals, etc.
Another question raised, is in spite of technology’s ever-growing importance and prevalence, to what extent should it be adopted in schools.
Online counsellor Riddhi Kandwal has seen many a parent complaining about their wards spending a lot of time on WhatsApp groups because of projects and assignments. “We do need more guidelines from schools. Are there standards in terms of time, posture and frequency with which the devices are being used?” she asked.
Kandwal used the analogy of how a few decades ago, everybody “woke up and realised how heavy schoolbags were and causing issues for kids,” and since then a lot of regulations have come in. She advocated something similar for technology.
Dr Satish Ramaiah, consultant neuropsychiatrist from People Tree Mind Care, said the separation of advantages and disadvantages of technology should be very clear, because no doubt the advantages were many. “Constructive use of digital devices is not bad per se. But due to lack of education regarding their use, children are confused,” he said. For example, when parents ask children to not use phones but use it themselves, it sends a wrong message to the kids, Dr Ramaiah said.
He gets 40-50 cases of youth complaining of some kind of technology addiction every month. About 10-20 are severely addicted. Many patients, he said, were in denial even if it was affecting their academic performance, socialisation or sleep patterns. The right approach in such cases is to try to make them understand rather than preach, he said.
Dr Sharma said the age group most vulnerable to technology addiction appears to be between 17 and 20 years, and about 10 cases a week are in this age bracket. Commonly reported addictions include gaming, social media and pornography. Some rare addictions for which help has been sought at the clinic include addiction to Wikipedia and Youtube.