How virtual reality is keeping kids from engaging with the real world

Unlike the previous generation, children in this technology obsessed world, have a decreased ability to imagine and create, which is downsizing on their cognitive buildup and expressive abilities.

By Dr Anuneet Sabharwal

As per the popcorn study of the late 70s, children between the ages of two to four years were convinced that everything on TV was an actual event happening in front of them. So, when the scientists showed them a picture of a popcorn bowl on the television set and asked if the popcorn would fall if the set was turned, the answer was a definite yes.

It is interesting to know how children, unlike adults, are unable to process what is on screen. They need contextual backing to differentiate virtual from reality and this will only be possible if they are allowed the time to look at the real world.

Today, we cannot escape the sight of cafes, restaurants or any social gatherings filled with adults and children bent on their smartphones, their faces illuminated with that harmful blue light. Though adults are at a great risk due to such exposure, it is the children who are facing the brunt, which can snowball into physical, emotional and mental issues in the future.

Most kids today are connected to some type of screen for hours every day, and this is enough to make them anxious, depressed and emotionally unbalanced. Studies show that children as young as two years old are suffering from restlessness, detachment and anxiety, owing to the deep-rooted connection with their smartphones.

Here are some reasons why you shouldn’t hand smartphones to your children:

Decreased social interaction

Unlike the previous generation, children in this technology obsessed world, have a decreased ability to imagine and create, which is downsizing on their cognitive build up and expressive abilities. Since screen time takes away their focus from their surroundings, their capability to interact and communicate nullifies dramatically. This diminishes the importance of relationships and human interaction as they are safe and cosy in the cocoon of the virtual world.

Dampened creativity

Children are vivacious and colourful in their imagination. Giving them smartphones limits their creativity and also slows down their motor senses.

Sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation is yet another facet of smartphone usage among children. The blue emitting from the screens tricks the brain into believing that it is still daytime and thus changes the module of the body function, resulting in fitful sleep and no rest.


Addiction is one of the major drawbacks of smartphone usage. When a child is hooked on, they do not feel the need to explore other areas of life and curiosity diminishes. This can hamper his/her overall development.

Desensitisation to emotions

One of the biggest repercussion that screens can cause among children is the loss of sensitivity to emotions, especially violence. Today, social media platforms are repositories of cyberbullying and other types of violence. A constant interaction with smartphones will lead to an acceptance of such a conflict where children will consider negative behaviour as a part of life.

How much is too much?

Radiations from phones are known to have an adverse impact, especially on a developing brain. The temporal and frontal lobes are still developing in teenagers and holding the phones close to their ears makes their brain susceptible to impairment and cognitive degeneration. So how can this be regulated?

Limit Screen Time

The unhealthy bond between children and their screens has less to do with age and more with maturity as well as the communication with their parents. A nine-year-old can be more responsible than a 13-year-old, so there is no definitive age parameter for screen time. However, parents should limit their screen time to not more than one hour in a day and in case of teenagers, two hours should be the maximum limit.

Stay informed

Almost 70 percent of teenagers admit to hiding their online activity. The internet is filled with ambiguous content and though parents cannot stop its production, they can certainly monitor their child’s online activity and instead of reprimanding them, can engage in a meaningful dialogue, explaining them the perils of using the internet wrongly. Parents can also set some ground rules, such as no screens during dinner or before homework.

Do not use smartphones to keep children engaged

Children should be encouraged to play, old school style. Instead of handing over smartphones to keep them occupied, parents can give them books to read, puzzles to solve, Lego structures, or colours, which will boost their imagination and improve their ability to interact with the real world.

Keep gadgets out of the bedroom

This goes for children as well as adults.

Children are malleable, being shaped according to their surroundings. So next time, instead of handing them the smartphones or iPads, parents must take time out to talk to them.

(The writer is MBBS, MD Psychiatry.)

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