By M.R. Lalu
The third wave of the pandemic has forced schools to shut in many states once again. Children are back to their virtual world learning their lessons on the mobile screen. The process of learning should be a never ending one. There have been studies and researches to delve into the health hazards that prolonged screen time can cause. Studies reveal that lengthy screen time can definitely cause physical and mental health issues. The World Mental Health Day was observed with a slogan “Mental Health of the Youth in the Changing Times.” Not only lengthy screen times that causes mental and physical issues, there are also factors that most of us rarely take notice of. It is estimated that about 50% of the mental health problems among the youth start well before the age of 14. When the person is 24 years old, he would gather almost all habits and behavioral benchmarks which would ultimately work as the basics of his future mental health. It has become a normal affair for any society to deal with issues such as mental health problems, drug addiction, criminal behavior and many other diseases among children.
A young man of 24 years hacked his aged parents to death recently in the Palakkad district of Kerala. To ensure their death, he hacked them multiple times and managed to flee to the neighboring state. His revelations to the police were so startling that after killing his parents, hacking them multiple times, he tried to inject pesticides on their dead bodies. Since that did not work, he poured it on their face and mouth. The reason that led to the crime was more shocking than the crime itself. His mother asked him to fetch a glass of water from the kitchen as she sat on the couch and he got easily provoked by his mother’s demand. When his paralysed father started to cry out of fear, he hacked him several times. This is not an isolated incident. There are many such incidents to quote from. Who should we pin blame on when a society has to undergo such incidents?
Studies with regard to the functioning of human minds reveal the fact that the behavioral changes that the child captures when he is a child would continue to stay with him as he grows. Small behavioral issues that we neglect usually get accumulated and mutated into issues that become difficult to handle in a later stage. Doctors speak of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a chronic condition which includes attention difficulty and hyperactivity. This situation, starting at a young age, persists into adulthood. Experts say that children with ADHD at a young age would carry the imprints of its modified version into their adulthood. This indeed, according to some surveys, leads to issues such as low self-esteem, inconsistency in the workplace, distorted family life, mental sickness and criminal mentality. Impact of adverse childhood experience would lead the child to serious health issues both mental and physical. To some extent, the surveys reveal that such issues may indeed lead to the premature death of the person. A study conducted among 500 prisoners at one of the jails in Kerala came out with shocking findings. It says that about 150 sampled prisoners had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in their childhood. The study also reveals that proper intervention in their childhood could have averted such behavioral problems. A large number of kids housed in the Children’s Home by the state government have mental health problems. Children living in such an environment are away from their parents bereft of parental care and love. This affects their mental health seriously and brings irreparable hazards in their behavior. Studies also reveal that mental health of the mother during pregnancy is an important factor. The mental impulses of the mother during the pregnancy sends waves impacting the child’s brain and becomes a part of the child’s mental aptitude as he grows.
The virus has once again chained our kids to the mobile screens and chances of real-life socializing became less. Incessant gluing to the mobile screens would take away the energizing elements of genuine socialization. The virtual world the child captures and scrolls down on the mobile screen is not small but that is not as enduring and effective as the real-life situations that a child can involve and experience from. Children need to be monitored by the parents and positive parenting needs to be a natural agenda of the family. There should also be initiatives taken at school and college level to address this issue. Adequate interventions by the teachers by regularly monitoring the mental growth of the children with better refreshing activities should be put in practice. When it comes to the schools, the class teachers can play a greater role by monitoring the physical and mental requirements of the children with the support of the parents. But locking the children up in their houses curtails all such interventions. What becomes riskier is the fact that the children, being put in isolation, begin to create a virtual world of imagination and the influence of materials available on the screen mounts. It becomes more difficult for the parents and the teachers to accurately study the impact of screen life in a secluded real life. Not only is the real educating process getting disrupted but home confinement of children pulls them away from creative socialization. Parents have a great role to play in helping the children. This pandemic and its enforced home isolation should be used for more creative interventions in the family itself. Especially, parents should be a consistent listener to their children and try to spend more time with them. Without avoiding their feelings, they should be helped to pick up and nurture positivity in a large way. Setting separate time for online learning and online enjoyment, parents can regulate children’s mental involvement on virtual contents. Creating a positive environment in the family would help the children to become more inventive and help them appreciate goodness around them. Interacting with their friends would also help the children come out of their mental stress to some extent. No doubt, living a healthy life in a pandemic hit world, without our children being lost in the virtual world of illusion is a challenge but not impossible.
(Author is freelance journalist and social worker based in Kerala. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at email@example.com.)