Insomniac Tod­dlers

Is it a re­sult of tablet ad­dic­tion?

Woman's Era - - Short Story - By Sudha Chan­drasekaran

The tablet is all-per­va­sive as a play­thing for lit­tle ones, es­pe­cially the tod­dlers - and par­ents are amazed at the speed with which the small ones learn to swipe a touch screen. A tablet is one which can be used by any lit­tle one who is ma­ture enough to pin point a digit. The fun­da­men­tal prob­lem is the mod­ern per­cep­tion that chil­dren need to be kept busy and oc­cu­pied at all times. Giv­ing a child a tablet is a con­ve­nient way for par­ents or care givers to grab a few min­utes for them­selves. We of­ten hear pae­di­a­tri­cians dis­cour­ag­ing screen use, in­clud­ing television, for chil­dren un­der two; a big NO TV for ba­bies; and no apps with funny car­toons on a par­ent’s or babysit­ter’s mo­bile phone.

But we still find that there has been an ex­plo­sion in the elec­tronic me­dia mar­ket, which hap­pens to be a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar busi­ness sell­ing com­puter games for very young chil­dren - some as young as nine months. Our de­vices now have a Ma­jor im­pact on our daily ac­tiv­ity and our chil­dren are grow­ing up bathed in a dig­i­tal glow.

We are fa­mil­iar with the phrase “sleep­ing like a baby”, but this phrase is not apt in to­day’s world which is def­i­nitely a high-tech age. Tele­vi­sions as well as video games also dis­turb sleep, but it is a less ubiq­ui­tous force in our daily lives. On the other hand, touch-screen de­vices (phones, tablets, cam­eras) are ev­ery­where and at all times. It means that the cor­re­la­tion be­tween use of me­dia and loss of shut­eye is more dire than ever. And yet ev­ery­where you go, you see tod­dlers clutch­ing ipads in their strollers and ba­bies gawk­ing at iphones while mothers wait in a de­part­men­tal store line. Not only are tablets and smart phones great gadgets for en­gag­ing the chil­dren but they can also be a great bribery tool.


But there are some parenting ex­perts who say that us­ing screen time as bribery or en­tice­ments may have trade-offs. Mostly all kids and es­pe­cially the tod­dlers are adept at han­dling them ef­fi­ciently be­fore they hit two years of age. Swip­ing, un­lock­ing or search­ing on smart phones and tablets are the skills pos­sessed by ama­jor­ity of the chil­dren. “Tech­nol­ogy — and specif­i­cally com­puter, cell phone and tablet use — is hav­ing a neg­a­tive im­pact on chil­dren of all ages,” says Dr Keith Fabisiak, a lead­ing pae­di­a­tri­cian.

Sadly, al­though tech moguls, such as Steve Jobs, fa­mously lim­ited his own chil­dren’s ac­cess to tech­nol­ogy, the rest of us of­ten fall un­der the thrall of the screen.

Some­times it is the par­ents, and not the kids, who be­come re­liant on the gadgets. “The trou­ble is that, with three kids un­der 10, it’s hard to get any­thing done with­out an elec­tronic babysit­ter,” says Anita Lal­wani. But most kids pre­fer to play with their sib­lings, par­ents or friends rather than video games.

Some­where along the line, a mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of neu­ro­science has led par­ents to be­lieve that all stim­u­la­tion for a child is good stim­u­la­tion. Al­though th­ese gadgets are not yet proven to be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive, it still robs the chil­dren of their pre­cious time in the real world that are known to be im­por­tant for de­vel­op­ment. It has been shown re­peat­edly that at least 60 min­utes per day of un­struc­tured play, when chil­dren learn to en­ter­tain them­selves, ei­ther alone or with an­other child and with­out adult or tech­no­log­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence is es­sen­tial. This is the time when a kid uses its imag­i­na­tive fac­ulty and fancy; when he or she de­vel­ops the skills of prob­lem-solv­ing and de­ci­sion-mak­ing; and learns early maths con­cepts, fine mo­tor skills and hand-eye co­or­di­na­tion. The use of elec­tronic gadgets dur­ing bed­time caus­ing chil­dren to sleep less leaves them ex­ces­sively tired the fol­low­ing day and can lead to se­vere health is­sues. They ar­rive at their classes the next day with a “dig­i­tal hang­over”.

For ba­bies in par­tic­u­lar, the lack of sleep in those early months and years can im­pair brain de­vel­op­ment. The trou­ble is that every ad­di­tional hour of tablet use by th­ese lit­tle ones is as­so­ci­ated with 15.6 min­utes less to­tal sleep per night, which adds up to 95 hours of less sleep a year. 'The ef­fects of poor sleep as­so­ci­ated with per­va­sive tablet use among pre-school-age chil­dren can lead to short and long term health con­se­quences in­clud­ing obe­sity; re­duced dex­ter­ity; de­creased at­ten­tion span and con­cen­tra­tion; poor ap­petite con­trol; in­crease in ag­gres­sive and an­ti­so­cial be­hav­iour; de­vel­op­men­tal de­lays; re­duced im­mu­nity; and poor men­tal health. Also, when lit­tle ones do not get enough shut-eye, they can be­come cranky and moody.

Chil­dren th­ese days are start­ing school at the age of five and six years with the com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills of two- and three-year-olds, pre­sum­ably be­cause their par­ents or care­givers have been “paci­fy­ing” them with ipads rather than talk­ing to them.

We see kids hyp­not­i­cally star­ing at glow­ing screens in restau­rants, in play­grounds and else­where and the numbers are grow­ing. Clin­i­cal re­search in this area cor­re­lates screen tech with dis­or­ders like


ADHD, ad­dic­tion, anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion, in­creased ag­gres­sion, and even psy­chosis. Re­cent stud­ies show that too much of ex­po­sure to screen can cause neu­ro­log­i­cal harm to the de­vel­op­ing brain of a young per­son in a sim­i­lar way that co­caine ad­dic­tion can. Light emis­sions from th­ese elec­tronic de­vices can dis­rupt the body’s nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring cir­ca­dian rhythm, in­creas­ing alert­ness and sup­press­ing the re­lease of the hor­mone mela­tonin, which is im­por­tant for reg­u­lat­ing our sleep cy­cle; th­ese screens also pre­vent the tod­dlers from in­ter­ac­tions with par­ents; sib­lings and other kids.

This may im­pede lan­guage, so­cial and emo­tional de­vel­op­ment. It may af­fect chil­dren’s de­vel­op­ment of in­sights, em­pa­thy, ways of know­ing them­selves, and con­nect­ing with re­la­tion­ships. Be­ing seden­tary is not good for tod­dlers and they should be en­cour­aged to in­ves­ti­gate their sur­round­ings. If not they will be get­ting most of their stim­u­la­tions from screen with­out build­ing their bod­ies through phys­i­cal play. Stud­ies show that chil­dren ages be­tween 3 to 5 whose par­ents read to them through elec­tronic books had lower read­ing com­pre­hen­sion com­pared to phys­i­cal books. Part of the rea­son is that the bells and whis­tles from books in elec­tronic de­vices dis­tract the kids and par­ents from fo­cus­ing on the story. Tablets and smart phones take time away from other ac­tiv­i­ties. So­cial and emo­tional in­tel­li­gence are crit­i­cal to suc­cess in life. Chil­dren “need time to day­dream, deal with anx­i­eties, process their thoughts and share them with par­ents, who can pro­vide re­as­sur­ance.” This is not pos­si­ble to­day as we find that chil­dren would rather play smart phones and tablets than with their sib­lings or par­ents.

Some say that glow­ing screens might even be good for kids as a form of in­ter­ac­tive ed­u­ca­tional tool.the pos­i­tive im­pacts of touch screen use among tod­dlers in­clude im­prove­ments in their mo­tor skills which means that they are able to stack blocks ear­lier. Some ed­u­ca­tion­ists say that “un­til we know more about how touch screens af­fect sleep, they shouldn’t be banned com­pletely, as there may also be cog­ni­tive ben­e­fits as­so­ci­ated with their use.” Reena Dutta , a 34 year-old mother of two kids aged six and two, says, “I think tod­dlers are fas­ci­nated by touch screens be­cause it of­fers them a sense of con­trol that they rarely ex­pe­ri­ence in their ev­ery­day lives. Also, the chil­dren’s games and shows are skill­fully de­signed to en­thrall them.” That be­ing said, kids de­velop an ap­ti­tude for tech­nol­ogy, which is an im­por­tant skill now and more so in the fu­ture. It is there­fore rea­son­able for the kids to ex­plore this world at an early age. Tablets and smart phones of­fer an op­por­tu­nity for the chil­dren to learn and stim­u­late their minds in a fun way and are also tools for them to com­mu­ni­cate. Skype and Face­time are two great uses of screen for com­mu­ni­cat­ing with friends and rel­a­tives.

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