Experts emphasize the significance of family conversations and limiting gadget usage to stay connected with your children

“Be in touch with your children, have family conversations and ensure there is a gadget downtime post dinner. Get professional help if you suspect something is not OK with your child,” Dr Bhooshan Shukla, noted child and adolescent psychiatrist, has said.

The message came in the wake of the recent incident where a Class 10 student died allegedly by suicide after she was scolded for using her mobile phone rather than focusing on studies.

United States Surgeon General Dr Vivek Murthy recently released a new advisory on social media and youth-mental health stating that social media may offer benefits but can also pose a risk of harm to mental health. In a survey conducted in September by LocalCircles, a community social media platform, 58 per cent of the parents in urban Maharashtra said their children spent three hours or more on average daily on social media, OTT and online gaming platforms.

Sachin Taparia, founder of LocalCircles, said that over 9,000 parents surveyed (2,215 of them from Pune) said their children showed aggression, impatience, lethargy and hyperactive behaviour because frequent use of mobiles.

Forty-two per cent of the parents said their children were on the phone for 1-3 hours whereas 41 per cent said they were on the phone for 3-6 hours. “However, they were not sure how much time their kids spent on social media, videos/OTT and online games,” he said, adding that the need of the hour is for the government to mandate parental consent for children signing up on online platforms.

At Connecting Trust, CEO Sukhada Khisti underscored the need for more awareness about the issue. “We have seen a rise in the number of calls made to our organisation from schools and colleges on these issues. For instance, there was a recent incident where a girl died by suicide on not being allowed to wear a saree. As part of our peer education programmes, we reach out to schools and colleges and provide a listening space on emotional awareness, self-care and self-harm,” Khisti said.

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Suchitra Date, a counsellor who has been working with children and families in schools and colleges for four decades, feels smartphone addiction needs professional help. “Parents initially give the phone to kids and then take it away when they find that the child has been on several platforms, intimately spending hours on them. Photo morphing too has induced children to harm themselves initially with small cuts on their forearms. This is high attention-seeking behaviour that parents must not ignore and say he or she will get over it,” she cautioned.

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Jaini Nandu, founder-CEO of Mindsight Clinic, said that children with early exposure to mobile phones and social media, where friends’ validation means much more than parental advice, could often take extreme steps.

Dr Shukla flagged concern about the rise in the number of deaths by suicide in the 15-29 age group in the country. “These cases have been on the rise for the past two decades now. It is because people choose not to look at it, that they feel this is something totally new. That is wrong. However, in general mental health has become the centre of focus in the last few years, and what is important to understand is that most youngsters in this age group who end their lives by suicide are likely to have some kind of mental illness that has gone undetected or untreated for a long time,” he explained.

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“Children often ask for help as they feel trapped, cornered or overwhelmed and feel that there is no way out. They try to communicate but somehow the majority of adults do not listen to this. Most parents feel they have provided enough educational opportunities for their children, who do not have major responsibilities at home, and that there is therefore no reason for them to be sad. At times there is poor empathy for the children. There are many who feel that since their childhood was difficult, the present generation has had it easy and have no problem,” Dr Shukla said. He reiterated that parents must take time out to have conversations with their children and that gadgets should be kept away for a while.