Your Child's Health - Dr Gita Mathai

Thank you, Manoj Albert Jeyaraj for sharing.

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Infants and toddlers who come to my clinic are often cranky. Instead of the old techniques of carrying them around, distracting them with toys, or my aquarium, today, more and more parents tackle these behaviour problems by immediately handing the child their smartphone. The child can barely walk or talk, but their podgy fingers swipe the screens expertly as they stare unblinkingly at the coloured images flashing on the screen. Parents think that this is a reflection of the intelligence of their toddler. This is far from the case. It is a disturbing and dangerous trend.

All electronic devices, cell phones, tabs or laptops emit MWR (microwave radiation). Long-term exposure to this radiation is carcinogenic. There is still speculation about exactly how much radiation is safe, with conflicting reports and claims.

A child's thin skull bones allow greater penetration of MWR. His or her nervous system and brain tissue absorb about two times more MWR than that of adults. His or her bone marrow absorbs ten times more radiation.

It is recommended that children under the age of two should not use cellphones at all. In all age groups, it is better to place cell phones a few inches away from the ear. They should be carried in backpacks or purses and not in pockets. In the case of laptops, computers and tablets, the minimum safe distance from the body is 20cm.

Tablets are even more popular than cell phones as pacifiers for children. They have a larger variety of passive and interactive programs. The screen is larger (more radiation), it is also held closer to the face (brain). Children soon learn to video themselves. They replay their own videos in a narcissist fashion. This negates the need for friendship or social interaction. They become self-absorbed, and since they are always in control of the happenings on the tab, they are unable to control their impulses. They do not interact with their peers or adults. Children learn and mature by watching adult social reactions to situations.

They become experts at swiping and tapping movements, usually with the dominant hand. Children constantly on these devices develop no dexterity or motor skills. They remain clumsy. They do not use their imagination to make believe and play. With no story telling or reading, lateral thinking, problem solving and the ability to learn maths and science are affected.

As the child becomes older, television replaces family interaction, play and even study time. Studies have documented that increased television viewing time delays and decreases the development of language, vocabulary and social skills. Some imitate the exaggerated facial contortions and staccato speech of cartoon characters.

Children under two years of age should not watch television at all. Those older than three years who watched an hour or more a day were found to fare poorly academically. Their educational achievements by the age of 26 are behind those of their peers. This is because, with television, everything is readily visible, and requires no analysis, reading or language skills. These areas of the brain lack stimulation and develop poorly.

There are educational programmes on television, specifically designed for children. These are seldom watched. Instead, the focus is on mindless serials, and cartoons with unrealistic situations, which can desensitise the child to violence.

Dependence on media for entertainment leads to social isolation and regression of skills essential for survival and success. Also, after school, homework, tuition and relaxation with television, there is no time physical exercise. This has led to an epidemic of unfit or obese children who develop lifestyle diseases in their twenties.

Dr Gita Mathai is a paediatrician with a family practice at Vellore. Questions on health issues may be emailed to her at yourhealthgm@yahoo.co.in , this article was first published in Telegraph India.

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