Children, like adults, find it difficult to get back to their old everyday lives after the pandemic. Returning to the right school has become an anxiety-ridden ordeal for some. Teachers are also part of this complex return to reality. The ongoing challenge is not only to undo two years of pandemic troubles, but also to prepare children for the future.
A Mumbai-based teacher said: “We were happy to have been in touch with the children in the classrooms – after months of online teaching. But we ended up with a situation where children are not only socially anxious but are also struggling with lowered self-confidence.”
There is no doubt that the children were happy to go back to school. But every child reacted differently. Vrushanki Karia, a consultant at Orchid International, said: ‘Few of them were looking forward to coming to school and few of them were trying to settle down. Younger students had more adjustment problems, but settled in faster. This is because the curriculum was activity based. I think the transition was tough, but they got a break from the technology they were using.”
She added that younger students took longer to adapt than older ones, but they too have adapted. At first, children did not seek help, but now more and more children turn to teachers and counselors with their problems.
While many institutions are seeing the benefits of online education, Dr. Dheeraj Shah, director and professor of pediatrics at the University College of Medical Sciences, that online learning is not the normal way of learning.
“It should only complement personal learning, not replace it. Two-way communication, eye contact, peer interaction, and a controlled environment of offline learning have clear benefits for optimal child learning and development.”
dr Shah noted that once kids went offline, schools realized the harmful effects of excessive screen use.
Changes in behavioral pattern
Social anxiety, distraction and irritability were some common symptoms children developed during the pandemic, and this became more apparent when they were brought into classrooms – making it difficult for teachers to engage with children. There was also depression among children. To prevent children from becoming distracted, schools and teachers ensured that an activity-based curriculum was central.
NN Raju, President of the Indian Psychiatric Society said: “Some children develop an attention deficit. That can have long-term implications.” He added, “We still can’t say what’s going to happen in the next two or three years, but I’m sure there will be an impact.”
During the COVID pandemic and subsequent lockdown, kids have had access to different types of devices. To calm an irritable child, parents willingly let them use smartphones, laptops, and other devices. To make matters worse, schools went online and made devices the norm.
dr Shah added: “A global review of 89 studies suggests that there is a significant increase in screen time among children during the pandemic, with the maximum increase seen in children aged 6 to 10 and adolescents.”
An increase in screen time was reported for about two-thirds of children, and the average increase was about an hour per day.
Excessive Screen Time & Mental Wellbeing
Excessive screen time was common even before the pandemic, but lockdowns and school disruptions made it worse.
Various studies indicated that several unfavorable correlates were associated with increased screen time in both adults and children, including mental health correlates.
dr Shah said: “Children with excessive screen time are at greater risk of delayed language development and learning/reading problems, leading to poor academic performance. Adult-targeted content can encourage antisocial and aggressive behavior in children and young people. Also, excessive screen time leads to less sleep and poor sleep quality, which also leads to mental health problems in children. Poor interaction with parents and peers due to over-indulgence in the virtual world also leads to lower resilience to deal with stressful situations.”
Aside from emotional and mental health issues, excessive screen time leads to obesity due to less physical activity and excessive consumption of high-calorie foods while looking at the screen.
Children are vulnerable to cyberbullying and exposure to adult content, putting them at risk of violence and substance abuse. Eye problems (tearing, refractive errors) and bone problems (back pain) due to poor posture are other common problems with excessive screen time.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that children up to a year old should not spend any time on digital screens, including watching videos or playing games. For children 2-4 years old, sedentary screen time should be no more than an hour a day, and even less is better.
A task force from the Indian Academy of Paediatrics (IAP), which works to promote the wellbeing of children in the country, has been formed to review the evidence regarding the impact of screen time and to issue guidelines and recommendations to ensure digital wellbeing.
dr Shah, convenor of the IAP guidelines, said they were introduced because of correlations between excessive screen time and physical, developmental and emotional issues.
Parents must set an example by being role models to get their children back into the parks, playgrounds and schools, said Dr. shah
His appeal to his fraternity is that doctors need to be aware of the problem and its side effects, inquire about the child’s screen habits, and advise parents accordingly. “Governments should also prioritize children’s digital well-being and conduct advocacy campaigns,” he suggested.
Prachi Makwana, a Consultant at Orchid International, said one of the best ways to address this issue is to speak openly about the negative effects of screen time and how adults are also dealing with the problem. “Using ‘we’ in conversation helps children identify with it. It’s a constant struggle,” she said.
(Edited by : Shoma Bhattacharjee)
First published: IS