atchLong before we were housebound due to the coronavirus outbreak, parents used to keep the children engaged with smartphones, tablets, laptops and computers. Before these gadgets were available, we used to keep the children busy with television to avoid trouble. Before the advent of cable TV, children used to eat while memorising movie songs and jingles of advertisements. When the satellite channels came, children imitated talking and walking of their favourite cartoon characters. Instead of being worried, parents were proud of them.
Our life became extremely dependent on smartphones, cellphones, tablets, laptops, computers and internet after the coronavirus outbreak. Online lessons started from elementary to high school. Trapped in the vicious cycle, children are glued to the screen.
Tariq Reza Ali, an associate professor in the vitreo-retina department at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), told the media that unlike pre-COVID period, more and more children have been coming for treatment now. “They are coming with eye irritation, red eyes, blinking and watery eyes,” he added.
Given the reality of the coronavirus and the public health situation, the World Health Organization has instructed that no digital device should be placed within the reach of children under one year of age, so that they do not stare at the digital screen under any circumstances. ‘No screen time’ for the infants. One hour a day can be acceptable for children between the ages of two to five. Children over five years can use it for a maximum of three hours a day. But who will follow that?
According to the physicians, children with eye problems during pandemic can be broadly divided into two groups:
Children between the ages of four and six, who have never had eye issues before. They are now blinking frequently, having red eyes and suffering from eye pains and headaches.
The second group includes children aged 8 to 12 who are taking classes online. They have to look at bright screens for a long time. Many of them who have never worn glasses before are now wearing glasses. The power of glasses changed for many children who used to wear specs before. Many of them have dry eyes and acute eye pain.
Tariq Reza Ali said, no matter how difficult the pandemic reality is, parents and teachers need to make sure that children are not constantly in front of a computer or any device.
“The children have to get up and rest their eyes periodically. Also they need to keep their eyes closed for at least 20-30 seconds after every 20 minutes. The pressure on the eyes will be reduced a lot this way.”
Other risks for children
Addiction to the virtual world: A study conducted by UNICEF says that one out of every three mobile phone users in the country is a child. A seven or eight-year-old told this author, "I watch the device when I eat and go to sleep. I like look at it because I like it.” These children are being detached from the real world due to the addiction of smartphone and such gadgets.
Disabilities: According to physicians, children's finger muscles do not develop properly when using touch screen phones or tablets. The grip of the finger does not increase. They don't have the strength to hold a pencil properly. The fingers cannot move properly.
Obesity: Children spending most of their times watching televisions or browsing in smartphones and computers are mostly become too lazy to go out and play or walk. They are fonder of chatting with friends online lying on bed or sofa and that leads to obesity.
Psychological problems: Children trapped in the virtual world are now facing more psychological problems than ever before. Many suffer from depression, anxiety, fear, isolation, and lack of self-confidence.
Addiction to pornography: The Internet is a powerful but unbridled technology that can take a user to an unwanted destination. Many children may become obsessed with pornography by watching offensive videos and photos, sometimes accidentally and sometimes out of curiosity. This can have a devastating effect on their mental and sexual health.
So what is the solution?
One parent said that if his child is asked to leave the mobile phone, he replies, “Then play with me.” The child's reply contains the solution to the current situation. Adults need to give active and quality time to their children. The child needs to be listened to. You have to give him time with all your heart.
*Gowher Nayeem Wahra is a writer and researcher. He can be reached at [email protected]. This piece, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat