Sherab Lhamo

Last year, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital in Thimphu saw 200 cases of virtual autism in children. This condition is caused by kids spending too much time looking at screens.

Overexposure to screens, especially for children, can have negative effects on their development and well-being. It can impact their social skills, sleep patterns, and overall health. Therefore, addressing this issue is important for promoting healthy habits and ensuring the well-being of children.

The phrase “Ya phone alu” has become common among parents who give phones and gadgets to their children to keep them occupied while they attend to their own tasks or socialise with friends. This trend reflects a shift in parenting methods, where digital devices are often used as a substitute for direct communication or interaction with children.

As a result, meaningful communication between parents and children may be reduced, potentially impacting family dynamics and relationships.

A parent interviewed by Kuensel expressed the sentiment that in today’s times, if a child has a phone in their hand, they seem to be content and don’t require anything else. This highlights the pervasive reliance on digital devices for entertainment and distraction among children, which can potentially overshadow other important aspects of their development and interaction with the world around them.

According to guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO), children under 24 months of age should not be exposed to screens at all. For children between the ages of 2 to 5 years old, screen time should be limited to a maximum of 1 hour per day. 

These guidelines are aimed at promoting healthy development and well-being in young children, as excessive screen time can have negative effects on their physical and mental health.

A mother of two children emphasised the importance of balancing screen time for both parents and children, highlighting its impact on social skills and the parent-child relationship. She suggested setting up rules at home, such as not allowing kids to use phones or gadgets alone, and instead, engaging with them during screen time.

By playing or watching together, or being nearby, parents can strengthen their bond with their children and promote healthier habits around technology use.

“Since we’re unsure how much time our kids spend on their phones, I’ve taken the step of downloading a screen time app that sends me warnings when they’ve reached two hours of usage,” said Sonam, a parent of two children.

This proactive approach illustrates the growing concern among parents regarding their children’s screen time habits and the need to monitor and regulate it for their well-being.

As children increasingly spend more time online, parents are understandably worried about the various cyber risks they may encounter. These risks include online bullying, exposure to inappropriate content, and other potential dangers.

Parents are rightfully concerned about safeguarding their children from these risks and often seek ways to educate and protect them while navigating the digital world.

A 29-year-old mother suggested that when giving devices or phones to kids, parents should join in by Googling, playing, or watching with them. This way, parents can stay informed about what their kids are doing online.

If that’s not doable, using a parental control app is helpful. It tracks how long kids are on their phones and what games or videos they’re into.

Kuenga, a parent, noted that social media could be a valuable parenting tool. It provides access to a wealth of knowledge and opportunities to connect with people and support groups. However, Kuenga also cautioned that social media could sometimes be overwhelming due to the sheer amount of information available, which could lead to confusion.

Yangree, an Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) facilitator with 12 years of experience, emphasized the importance of establishing predictability in children’s daily routines, particularly during their early years from birth to age eight.

By mapping out or creating a schedule, children can develop discipline, grow, and better understand their environment. This structured approach fosters a sense of stability and security, which is crucial for their overall development.

She explained that simple social cues, like having specific areas for play and study, help children understand without constant reminders. By designating separate spaces for different activities, children learn where each task is done and where things belong.

This approach teaches them organization and reinforces routines without the need for constant supervision.

Yangree suggested implementing a rule where children engage in activities like playing, dancing, or going for a walk before being allowed 15 to 20 minutes of screen time.

She emphasised the importance of integrating play into the parent-child relationship, as it is through play that children develop social skills, learn about the world, and acquire new abilities.

Additionally, play strengthens the bond between a child and their parent, fostering a deeper connection and understanding.