Save the Children | Political economics


eccentric smartphone addicts are more and more common than we would like to admit. A two-year-old glued to a screen is no longer a rare sight. Unfortunately, some parents allow their children to be hooked to screens as soon as they can hold a post.

Most parents give phones to children out of affection – to keep them cool, calm and happy watching their favorite cartoons. Every time parents try to take the phone away from the child, a tantrum occurs. To avoid the situation, parents often put the phone back as soon as the first tear is shed or a cry is heard. Many find it easier to have their children busy on the phone almost enthusiastically, unaware of the many terrible consequences this can have.

Here a question arises: is giving a mobile phone to children a responsible behavior?

In a video clip, Dr Javed Iqbal, Professor of Surgery and Head of Department of Medical Education (DME) at Quaid-i-Azam Medical College, Bahawalpur, was seen explaining the impact of mobile phones on children. Highlighting the dangerous effects, he says children should not be given cellphones, especially those under the age of seven. He says smartphone addiction is real. “If someone asks me whether to put a cell phone in the hands of their children or an ember, I would say that an ember is much less dangerous,” he adds.

Parents should avoid giving phones to children before an appropriate age. Neglect in this regard can have lasting effects and lead to anxiety and restlessness; even depression.

Explaining the medical effects of smartphones, Dr. Iqbal says that when we turn on a cellphone, it’s a micro-event. Each such event creates pleasure which produces a chemical in the brain called dopamine. According to Harvard Medical Publishing, the feel-good neurotransmitter is responsible for making us feel pleasure as part of the brain’s reward system. It is also the hormone involved in strengthening. The downside of dopamine is that it can add to the addictive properties of uplifting and mood-boosting drugs and activities. To continue to experience the high first experienced with the release of dopamine into the bloodstream, a person keeps coming back for more, the doctor says. The effect of dopamine on receptors in the brain is temporary, creating a phenomenon where a person needs more and more dopamine as the number of receptors increases.

Elaborating on the harms of excessive cellphone use, Dr. Iqbal explains that smoking a cigarette does not produce as much dopamine as a cellphone screen does in two to three minutes. Spending too much time in front of a screen can make children irritable, says the doctor.

“Once, a four-year-old child came to see me with her mother. The child said: I am bored despite using a smartphone,” recalls Dr Iqbal.

Boredom shouldn’t be a problem children face, the doctor says. People should try to involve their children in healthy activities. Excess dopamine production in young brains may not be helpful.

It is worrying that some parents today lack awareness and training on caring for their children and monitoring their activities, including smartphone use.

Professor Dr Raana Malik, Chair of the Department of Gender Studies at the University of Punjab, says mobile phones are among the necessities of life today. However, they are addictive and can lead to anxiety in children and affect children’s health and well-being. Giving smartphones to children is a terrible idea, she says.

In the past, parents gave rattles to breastfed children to keep them from crying. Today, many parents give them their mobile phones. Dr. Malik says monitoring children’s smartphone usage is next to impossible. Parents, she says, need to involve their children in physical activities, away from the world of active screens.

The government should sensitize people to give smartphones to very young children to save them from its harmful effects. Children should also be sensitized to encourage physical activity and healthy hobbies.

The author is an independent contributor

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