NEW DELHI: When a siren goes off at 7 p.m., residents of one Indian village shut their TV and mobile sets to observe a self-imposed blackout, a measure they hope will help protect their children from digital addiction.
The daily routine started in Mohityanche Vadgaon on Aug. 15, when India celebrated 75 years of independence. Since then, the village in the Sangli district of Maharashtra has been trying to observe its own liberation — 90 minutes of freedom from digital clutter.
“Everyone observes self-discipline,” village head Vijay Mohite told Arab News. “It’s digital cleansing for the whole village.”
Digital addiction came to the attention of Indian authorities and parents following long coronavirus restrictions which kept children away from school and group activities for nearly two years.
Soon after online classes started in 2020, a study by a city hospital in the northern Indian city of Jaipur warned that 65 percent of minors surveyed showned symptoms of addiction to mobile phones and were unable to leave their devices for more than half an hour.
In March this year, Electronics and IT Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar told parliament over a third of Indian children were experiencing reduced concentration due to mobile phone use.
In Mohityanche Vadgaon, the fallout of virtual online learning was observed as well.
“COVID lockdowns and the online classes for school kids made the majority of the school going boys and girls addicted to mobile phones and that was affecting the academic and emotional behavior of youngsters,” Mohite said.
“We know that it’s like going against the tide, but digital detox is important if the parents in the village want their kids to have a bright future.”
The agrarian village, which survives mainly on growing sugarcane, has two government schools.
Jayvant Vitthal Mohite, who is not related to the village head and teaches history at one of the public schools, said he had noticed that there was a significant drop in his students’ academic performance after two years of online learning, and they would remain connected to their phones even during classes:
“The initiative that the village head has taken, and the parents’ awareness have made a difference in the behavior and attitude of the kids in school.”
Jayyant believes that daily digital detox, even as short as 90 minutes, helps improve the well-being of kids and even after one month his students demonstrate more creativity and focus.
“They look more relaxed and at ease than before,” he said.
Fifteen-year-old Gayatri Nikam can relate. She puts off her phone when loudspeakers at a village temple sound the digital break time in the evening.
“My academic performance has improved in the last over one month and I have not played any mobile game for some time now,” she told Arab News.
To support their kids, parents in Mohityanche Vadgaon also practice the detox.
“We don’t switch on the TV, we don’t use mobile phones, and take only calls which are necessary,” Gayatri’s father, Anil Nikam, said. “I have two daughters and I want them to do well in life.”
For Gayatri’s mother, Anuradha Nikam, the regular 90-minute digital-free sessions bring a sense of relief.
“You hear stories of how children get spoiled by mobile addiction,” she said. “The initiative in the village has really made me happy and I feel the kids are becoming more creative by being away from mobile phones.”