Digital Detox at Aster Hospital, Qusais

Although young children today are smart and tech-savvy, their interactive ability is impaired compared to their predecessor generations, according to child health experts and therapists.

“The three main markers, or early signs, of autism are anti-social behavior, lack of eye contact, and aloof behavior. Children suffering from device addiction show the same symptoms,” said Sarah Ilyas, nursing manager at the Aster Hospital in Al Qusais. Furthermore, hospital authorities have suggested that device addiction in children as young as two to three can result in delayed milestones or developmental delays.

“Children feel more comfortable in the world of YouTube videos cartoon shows. They find it harder to reach developmental milestones like being able to club words together or fluent speech. My son showed these symptoms till we stopped giving him a device,” said Mr. Bruno D’Souza, the COO of Aster hospital, Qusais.

Ilyas and D’Souza spoke to Khaleej Times at the sidelines of ‘Digital Detox Weekend‘, where a total of 50 children spent the entire Saturday morning to afternoon (9.30am to 6pm) at the newly-built hospital. The event was organised by the International Association of Human Values (IAHV) and Art of Living (AOL), a non-profit organisation. Children were asked to surrender their devices and spend an entire day communicating with their peers and learning more about themselves.

The evening sessions were organised for the benefit of the parents. The children were from 8 to 18-years of age.

The students played games, performed yoga and meditation, performed group exercises such as ‘creating their own game’, and performed several other activities.

The free event received up to 100 registrations. However, only 50 were selected to attend. This community outreach event will be the first of many to be organised in the hospital premises.

Device addiction high in the UAE 

A research showed that the UAE was the top region for smartphone penetration in 2017, with an 80.6 per cent penetration rate, and a total of 7.5 million people with smartphones.

“About 90 per cent of the participating students have their own devices. Some have their mobile phones, gaming consoles, tablets, PCs, and several other digital devices,” explained Raksha Patel, faculty at IAHV.

The use of devices, even in classrooms, was initially being acknowledged as an acceptable trend. The parent and medical community are now voicing their concerns about the use of tech, especially among small children.

“The education community needs to exercise some control. Children should be allowed to use it only for a few hours. Off late, in the paediatric divisions of our hospitals, we are seeing several cases of headaches in children aged three-13,” added Sarah.

According to the head of nursing, headaches are not associated with children. “It is an adult ailment. If kids have it, it is due to the stress from consuming content on devices,” she explained.

Children need to be given physical attention 

“Children can be extremely demanding of their parents’ attention and affection. If parents continuously stare at the phone or tablet, then children will either mimic them or do things to bring the attention back to themselves,” said Patel. AOL has organised youth programmes for 10,000 children since 2007. “All children who attend the programme realise that excessive devices are bad for them, and they are willing to take positive steps to rectify that,” she added.

Prashant Kumar, an Indian parent of two daughters – Shararanya and Anahita – enrolled both his girls for the detox programme. He said, “The issue is that we as adults also use devices heavily. However, we can’t explain it to the kids that we are using it for work. As a parent, I try and communicate with my girls and play games whenever I have the time.”

Digital Detox Photo Album:

News Coverage: Khaleej Times