- The author of this article is Dr Pervin Dadachanji,MD (Psychiatry),SRCC Children’s Hospital, Managed by Narayana Health
13-year-old Priya stopped her studying within an hour of starting. She had exams the next day, but she just wanted to watch one episode of her favorite TV show on an online platform. She promised herself that after one episode she would start her work again. But just as she finished one episode the next started and she could not tempt herself away from the excitement of her show. That led to sleeping in the early hours of the morning; no revision for the exam and therefore not doing well in the exam. This is just one of the many stories of the outcome of binge watching.
The dictionary definition of Binge Watching is “to watch many or all episodes of a TV series in rapid succession”. Whether it is too much television throughout the year or excessive watching at certain times like during lockdown or holidays, most parents know that children should not be spending too much time on screen. The lockdown especially has been very hard on kids and parents. Children had nowhere to go; no school, no playground; no hanging out with friends. So they started bingeing on all those super exciting, thrilling TV shows and You Tube channels. And parents did not say No. They understood their children were going through difficult times and let’s face it this also gave them time to do their own jobs whether household chores or their work-from-home. It perhaps started off as relaxation after a full day of school; or a “let them watch while I get some of my work done”. And before they knew it the children were down that slippery slope which led to addiction.
Why is binge-watching bad?
A study showed that the total amount of time people spent per week watching shows in 2020 increased by nearly 75% as compared with 2020. Binge-watching causes isolation and lack of socialization and connectedness. It is like a drug which leads to addiction. It interferes with sleep which then affects the child’s cognitive ability and his learning. It leads to lack of physical activity and obesity. It can also cause depression and anxiety.
Signs of addiction to TV:
In spite of setting rules to watch TV, your child is concealing watching TV or deliberately breaking rules
If your child is aggressive, throws tantrums or gets irritated when you stop her from watching TV
If your son suddenly slips in terms of his grades in school, it could be because he is spending a lot of time glued to the screen.
Irregular sleep patterns and loss of sleep or looking bleary-eyed every morning can also be a sign of bingeing on online streaming sites
You child refuses to go down and play or stops all other extracurricular activities.
What can parents do
Taking away TV totally is neither realistic nor necessary. A balance is what you need to maintain.
Set rules. They can be called post-pandemic rules now. Use the when-then principle. When you finish your homework then you can watch your show. When you have gone down and played, then you can go on YouTube. Another rule could be watching of TV only on weekends. And there also set the hours or you will land up with your child looking cross-eyed and dazed after twelve hours of bingeing.
Instead of saying you cannot watch TV, give them alternatives; a board game, going for a run, playing an instrument. There’s a whole long list of non-TV related activities to be presented to your child.
Spend time with your child. Your binge-watching child may not think this is fun, but the child who likes food may be happy to go out for a coffee or be happy to cook an interesting meal with you.
Look at your own TV watching behaviors. Do you spend Saturday night watching a whole season of your favorite show? Monkey does what monkey sees.
See a mental health professional. If your child is just unable to get off her gadget it makes sense to see a counsellor who will help treat this addictive behavior.
Television is here to stay; online streaming platforms will become more and more sophisticated and interactive. As parents our job is to help navigate our children through this digital age in a balanced and happy way.