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We collected our fair share of cuts and bruises as children while we played all kinds of games. Some injuries were a result of taking up someone on a dare as the last thing we wanted was to be branded a coward. A common bruise was getting a temporary ‘horn’ after falling down. The swelling on the forehead was viewed by siblings and friends with awe, a mark of honour. Somehow boys seem to be more prone to these, perhaps because they are rougher in play.

But the latest news reported in several publications is about youngsters growing horns on their skull from spending too much time hunched over smartphones.

Abnormal growth, changes recorded

Recent articles by the BBC and the Washington Post cite a 2018 study in the journal Scientific Reports, which suggest that these growths are turning up more often in people aged 18 to 30. These reports have met with mixed reactions.

However, some doctors say that bending the head forward for long periods of time could cause a bone spur to form. If technology is, indeed, causing these abnormal protuberances then there may be cause for concern. It’s a well-known fact, however, that people who spend a lot of time with their necks craned forward can develop neck and back problems.

One finding of the study mentioned earlier is that some of the subjects’ necks had settled into an abnormally bent posture.

One reason why this abnormality is being noticed more in youngsters than adults is because their bones are still growing. Whether or not there is a correlation between phone use and physical changes in the body, there is no denying the fact that excessive use of mobile gadgets is reaching alarming proportions.

In the wake of this disturbing phenomenon, parents in the US have begun hiring coaches to wean their children away from phones. Screen consultants come to the home and try to engage children in activities that were common in the time when the parents were young.

The worst mistake

But this exercise requires the active participation of the adults who, more often than not, are themselves guilty of excessive phone use.

I have seen parents constantly on the phone while the children are left to their own resources.

And the worst mistake many parents make is handing their phones to tiny tots to distract them and allowing them to treat the gadget as a toy. The end result is children pushing all the buttons on the phone with delight, while the parents are oblivious to the fact that their buttons, too, are being pushed in the process. In fact, some of these adults will proudly point out to others the dexterity of those little fingers in the hope that such genius is duly taken note of.

Newspaper reports are on the rise of children taking extreme measures such as committing suicide after being scolded for spending too much time on their phones by irate parents who then confiscate these gadgets.

When the child uses this as a crutch or pacifier and they can no longer do without it, there is no point in feeling regret. Even within my own extended family I have seen this device being misused by the very young ones. But there is one little girl who is not allowed to touch her parents’ mobile phones and they, in turn, are not glued to these. Instead, she looks forward to story time and can be seen sitting for hours with her favourite book. What a welcome sight this is.

Perhaps one way of preventing phone addiction is to go back to the age-old tradition of bedtime stories where the child is led into a fantasy world and imagination rules the day. We are all visual and auditory learners and storytelling satisfies all the senses.

Vanaja Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India.