More Ugandan Children using Screen Devices

Mark Kawalya

Nancy Namuddu, a 36-year-old mother, is concerned as her 7-year-old son will hardly go out to play with other children. He spends most of his time playing mission games on his tablet. Her attempts to pry him off the device makes him have angry outbursts, leaving her confused.

There is a general trend of more Ugandan children having increased screen time, particularly in middle- and upper-class families. As the demands of daily living put a strain on parents, devices are seen as a quick fix that keeps children engaged. “I work from home,” says Martin, an accountant. “It is impossible to get work done during school holidays when my kids are at home. Allowing them to use their tablets while I work is the only way I can work uninterrupted.”

Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine warn that using a tablet or smartphone to divert a child’s attention could be detrimental to “their social-emotional development. “If these devices become the predominant method to calm and distract young children, their ability to develop their own internal mechanisms of self-regulation will become impaired.”

The continuous use of interactive screen time by children under three years old could impair a child’s development of the skills needed for maths and science. The potential  impact of excessive screen time on children’s mental health is worrying. Extended screen time has been linked to sleep disturbances, anxiety, and depression in some children. Constant exposure to digital content can disrupt the delicate balance of a child’s developing mind, potentially leading to long-term consequences.

Furthermore, the early introduction of devices can hinder the development of crucial social skills. Face-to-face interactions are essential for building empathy, communication, and emotional intelligence. Excessive screen time may limit opportunities for children to engage in real-world social scenarios, potentially affecting their ability to form meaningful relationships later in life. However, some studies suggest benefits to toddlers’ use of mobile devices, including early literacy skills and better academic engagement in students with autism.

Children from less fortunate Ugandan families are typically not affected by these trends. Electronic screen devices are a luxury many of these families cannot afford. Younger children engage in traditional forms of play like dodgeball and football, while older children take on chores.

“My six-year-old daughter spends most of her time after school helping her mother at her vegetable stall.” Mutumba, who works as a security guard, says. Mutumba says he and his wife cannot afford smartphones but use feature phones for communication.

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