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More children suffer from electronic screen syndrome

By My Y   November 21, 2022 | 04:53 pm PT
Excessive screen time has been blamed for an increase in cases of tic disorder seen at a HCMC children's hospital.

Last week, Van’s eight-year-old son began acting strangely. She observed him constantly jerking his eyes, nodding and sometimes mumbling to himself. She initially thought that they were the fleeting actions of a child, but the symptoms increased in frequency.

On Friday a doctor in the Department of Infection – Neurology at the HCMC Children’s Hospital No.1 diagnosed the boy with tic disorder.

"The doctor said that my child has become like this because he has watched too much TV and phone, and it was necessary to limit his screen time," Van said.

The HCMC Children’s Hospital 1 used to receive only one or two cases of tic disorder per day, but the number has recently risen to five or six, said Ly Hien Khan, a doctor of neurology and infection.

Parents wait to get their children checked at the Department of Infection – Neurology of the HCMC Children’s Hospital No.1 in HCMC, November 18, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/My Y

Parents wait to get their children checked at the Department of Infection – Neurology of the HCMC Children’s Hospital No.1 in HCMC, November 18, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/My Y

A tic is broadly defined as the sudden, uncontrollable, repeated, and quick movement of a body part. Tics can occur anywhere in the body including one’s face, shoulders, legs, or hands. They most often occur in children under 18 and are most severe for ages 11-12. The frequency, intensity, duration and location of muscle twitches vary from child to child.

Symptoms of tic disorder, caused by several reasons including excessive screen time, can include repeated body tics and the involuntary constriction of the nose. In some cases, children may continuously sigh, mumble, click their tongues, shout, shrug their shoulders, shake their heads, and jerk their jaw muscles. Severe cases involve the imitation of other people's movements, stroking of one's hair, kicking of one's feet and repeatedly jumping. Sufferers may repeat sentences independent of context.

On the same day that Van took her son to the hospital, Ha, a resident of Dong Nai Province that borders HCMC, took his nine-year-old daughter for medical attention after observing her repeatedly twitch her eyes, scream and shake her head.

Ha said during the pandemic, she had to study online at home and grew accustomed to spending time in front of electronic screens. He admitted that his family has failed to restrict the time his daughter spent on smartphones and it was not until recently that he realized how much time she has been devoting to watching TikTok videos after school.

During the past two weeks, he observed her jerking her eyes uncontrollably and screaming.

"Her teacher said she also shows those symptoms at school so I had her checked. Doctors said she has developed the tic disorder," the father said.

Two children watch a video on an iPad. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Nga

Two children watch a video on an iPad. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Nga

Doctor Khan explained that the tic disorder does not affect a child's sense of perception or consciousness. Thankfully, the disease is treatable and can disappear over time.

"The most commonly recommended treatment is to use tricks. When a child starts to have a tick, it is necessary to distract them by having them count numbers or do physical exercise such as jogging or jumping rope so their brain does not focus on the muscles that are twitching anymore," he said.

Dr. Khan said that the recent increase in the number of children with tic syndrome may be the result of the prolonged social distancing period, which required students to stay at home too long and increased their exposure to computer, phone, and television screens.

While the disease does not pose any serious long-term health threats, symptoms can re-occur if lifestyle or environmental changes are not made.

Parents play an important role in supporting children coping with the syndrome, according to psychologist Nhan Cam Nghi from the Psychological Unit of the Children’s Hospital at HCMC.

"The family's understanding and patience are crucial in reassuring and helping children increase their sense of self-worth during this challenging time," she said, explaining that family members should not blame or threaten a child. Moreover, parents should attempt to avoid exhibiting stress because they can transfer anger and anxiety to their children, making the overall condition worse.

Ultimately, parents should spend time interacting and communicating with their children and encourage exercise, while limiting exposure to electronic devices.

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