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Covid  has led us to a situation where we are forced to fight on multiple fronts thereby making this battle bloodier than ever. Some of the fronts include Food Security, Loss of jobs, Cracking Medical infrastructures, psychological effects of the lockdown and now a new battlefield has emerged – “Increase in Screen time leading to Online Predation”.


The lockdown had  forced all of us inside which has given an opportunistic moment to OTTs(Netflix, Amazon etc.) to promote their sites and increase their viewership. Not just OTTs(Over the top services), social media platforms, learning apps and various android applications have increased their reach significantly owing to which the online platforms have become a breeding ground for the Online Predators. In succeeding paragraphs we will focus upon how our screen times have altered and the effect of it on our younger generations.


Alarming increase in Screen Time


Due to strict lockdown measures in force and existing social distancing norms people are more busy spending time on their smartphones/devices to keep in touch with their families and friends and to kill the boredom. Some users shared screenshots showing their phone use has gone up by 200% during the lockdown period.


The demand and increase in traffic for the streaming sites across the globe has intensified, with Amazon, Netflix and other OTTs having to reduce their video quality in some countries to handle the excessive strain.


Reason for increase in Screen Time


Apart from feelings of boredom, people are using their smart devices for studies, relaxing their mind and body by watching online tutorials, keeping in touch with their loved ones, grocery shopping and much more.


Closing of majority schools and educational institutions all across the states has forced students to use different online educational platforms to continue their studies. With most of the platforms providing their services for free during this period, it has come as a boon for all those parents who were worried about the studies of their kids.


People who used to go to Gyms, yoga classes or other physical activities are now indulged in physical activities inside their homes with the help of online lessons. Smart devices have become a lifeline for many during this lockdown.


Harmful effects of Increase Screen Time


“Self-isolation has driven more and more children to move online during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to an unprecedented rise in screen time and raising safety risks for millions of young people” – United Nations


Closing of schools, educational institutions and strict lockdown measures have exposed 1.5 billion children to the glittering world of “World Wide Web” where not all children have the necessary knowledge, skills and resources to keep themselves safe. Spending more time on virtual platforms can leave children vulnerable to online sexual exploitation as Online Predators are now capitalizing on the pandemic.


The UN agency mentioned that a lack of face-to-face contact with friends and partners may lead to heightened risk-taking such as sharing of sexualized images. At the same time, increased and unstructured time online may also expose children to potentially harmful content as well as put them at greater risk of cyber bullying.


Is there no Turning Back?


The only question which looms in my mind, is there any turning back from here? Already we are battling against the unstructured and uncontrolled use of Internet Services and the pandemic has added Fuel to the fire. With increase in screen time at such levels will lead to online addiction making it difficult to reverse the effect.


The screen time also affects the mental as well as physical and psychological well-being of an individua .One unique and effective initiative taken by the Ukrainian Television industry – “Early Swallows”, it is a web series highlighting the issue of Child Abuse in the society and at the end of the show “Child care helpline numbers” is shared with the viewers of a NGO which offers psychological and legal aid to teenagers. Since the beginning of this show, the number of calls to NGO has skyrocketed to more than 600% which is an eye opener for us all and other countries should also learn from this innovative initiative to curb Child Abuse in our society.


Governments should keep their child helpline numbers more active in current scenarios including effective training of Medical and Social Service workers for efficient handling of such scenarios.


It is also a moral responsibility of the Social media platforms and OTTs to enhance the online platforms with stringent security protocols especially in virtual learning tools which are mostly used by the younger populace. Last but not the least, better parental control is the key to curb this menace and at the same time educating their children about the safe usage of online services by setting new internet rules at home.

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