The recent outbreak of the novel Covid 19 virus, which has pushed for children to engage in homeschooling and virtual learning has raised many health and wellbeing concerns among parents and professionals.
Just as there are two sides to everything, there have been general concerns on the effects of using the computer and other electronic gadgets for hours, especially for children. The benefits of using online and virtual learning are indisputable, and as backed by cognitive research, virtual learning helps build computer literacy and other executive functions such as multiple tasking.
That notwithstanding, there is also enough evidence suggesting that prolonged periods on the computer harm children's wellbeing, friendships and family relationships. Some of the challenges associated with extended hours on electronic gadgets include depression, eye damage, obesity, headaches, insomnia, anxiety, carpal tunnel syndrome and loneliness in children. What can be done differently?
To still engage students while they are home; specific strategic measures are to be put in place to ensure the mental health and general wellbeing of students are considered.
First of all, a combined technique of using both audio and virtual learning will be instrumental in reducing screen time while dealing with challenges in comprehending what is expected of students. This can be done by ensuring facilitators send explanation and instruction audios to their students, directing them on the nature of the assignment to be done before students log on to their various lessons for the day. Such audio instructions will give a more precise understanding to students and hence, reduce the number of hours they spend on their gadgets as they will already know what to do.
There should also be breaks in between lessons to allow children to move away from their computers or gadgets and be engaged in other activities. Creating a screen-free period during the day to engage in some physical exercises or napping can be very useful. The reason for this screen-free break especially just before bedtime is to help with sleep problems as research has it that the lights emitted from screens interfere with the sleep cycle in the brain when using the computer for a long period. Parents can be involved in this by ensuring children take the needed breaks as expected of them.
Secondly, the mental health and general wellbeing of children can be significantly improved if virtual learning is systematic and flexible. For instance, sensory overload and carpal tunnel syndrome can be substantially decreased in children if teachers alternate between virtual learning and practical sections.
Furthermore, in as much as we are trying to help deal with the problems of loneliness by encouraging students to interact with their friends through a medium like facetime, Instagram and snap chat video, the absence of social interaction and the physical presence of their friends is what they miss.
So we are encouraging parents and caregivers to try and fill this gap by being physically present to engage and interact with children during these uncertain times. Some engaging activities that parents can join in with their children are board games, bike riding, swimming, cooking together, creating artworks together, long walks, gardening, among others.
Children are also encouraged to stay healthy by drinking lots of fluids (water and freshly made juices) eating healthy meals, engaging in physical activities and resting when they must. Parents can help children achieve this by planning a fluid and nutrient intake chat with children. This will go a long way to help parents and students to self-monitor their drinking and eating habits and help them make some meaningful adjustments where needed, especially for younger children.
As parents and facilitators, we have the power to shape the experience children receive from technology. And even though the social dynamic of school will be impossible to replicate at home or on zoom, the combined efforts of teachers, parents and students will go a long way to make this period a successful and memorable one.
Virtual learning and the use of electronic gadgets is essential in these times, but there are adverse effects associated with the use of technology. These effects can be largely eliminated through proper supervision of the amount of time spent on their gadgets.
Thus, educators, parents, and other adults who work with children must understand some of these challenges as well as the most efficient ways of guiding children to make good choices with regards to the use of technology. Funke Baffour is ARIS Head of Counseling and Support.
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