Screen time for kids is among the most debated topics in parenting circles. Like it or not, it is unavoidable and when used correctly, could actually be beneficial.
We saw this in the pandemic with online modes of education, video calls to loved ones and an option for caregivers to engage the child. But the challenge is to avoid dependence, often making the caregivers feel guilty.
Doctors advice to cut the screen time for kids as much as possible but in today’s time it might become tough on caregivers to cut-off the screen altogether. After a long draining day, it just could be easier handing over the phone to them, than handling a tantrum.
We might not anticipate, but it doesn’t take long for this to become a habit. The key is to be mindful of the time spent and content consumed on TV or a Phone. Spending lots of time on devices like computers, tablets, smartphones can take away their time from other activities like sleeping, exercising, playing with friends, and doing homework which are far more important for their growth. Not monitoring the content could also expose your child to a range of unwanted outcomes.
Good, Bad and the Ugly
From ordering groceries, to getting the update on our kid’s school work, to checking our own health, we rely on technology. Even our kids are aware of the fact, for any doubt that crops up in a discussion, the first thing we look for is our smartphone. This alertness from the child is only natural in their growing years and this can be used positively if driven in the right direction.
With moderation, screen time can be meaningful. We can use technology for educating, like, teaching a rhyme or a dance move, or audio and video with abstract concepts. Showing them different sports, hobbies, art and opening a world of possibilities might help recognize their hidden talent and interest.
Playing video games (in moderation) could improve their ability to focus, level of concentration, creativity, memory, languages, their strategy and leadership skills. Showing them good informative documentaries, movies can teach them new perspectives.
However, when not moderated, it could easily go wrong. Data indicates that children who spent more than two hours a day on screen-time activities scored lower on language and thinking tests, and some children with more than seven hours a day of screen time experienced thinning of the brain’s cortex, the area of the brain related to critical thinking and reasoning.
If young children spend most of their time passively engaging with an iPad, smartphone, or the television, all of which are highly entertaining, they crave constant stimulation. It becomes hard to get them engaged in “active” activities, such as playing with toys to foster imagination and creativity, exploring outdoors, and playing with other children to develop appropriate social skills. Excessive screen time could hinder a child’s ability to observe and experience the typical everyday activities in order to learn about the world.
Long hours on the screen can lead to passive listening or one-way interaction with a screen and inhibit the language development and social interaction of the child.
There are increasing instances of screen addiction limiting a child’s developmental journey. Hence, it is crucial to choose meaningful media and keep a tab on the time spent on devices. These limits can vary depending on the age, health, and personality of your kids, and also on your family’s lifestyle and values.
Prevention is better than Cure
When you are allowing screen time for your younger kids try to stick around and keep a tab on what they are watching. Parents can actively engage with kids to guide them and teach them safe practices. You could have a conversation about the show to make the atmosphere easy for them.
Doing research on the games and apps beforehand is going to make things simpler for you and your kid. Many games that claim to be educational don’t exactly turn out to be true.
Schedule their routine with plenty of non-screen play time and keep them occupied in actual fun things that interest them. Let them have interactive sessions with care-givers and their friends, and lots of Open-ended Play.
We know sometimes it is much easier to give them the phone when they are fussy, especially during mealtime. And it is fine as long as it does not become a habit. If it feels wrong, start today and over time, wean your child away from the screen.
What is the right amount of Screen time?
There are guidelines for appropriate screen time engagement for different age groups.
Toddlers (1-2 years) - Little to No Screen Time
For children under the age of 2 years old, it is recommended little to no screen time, with the exception of video chatting. Once children reach 18 to 24 months, parents can begin to introduce high-quality media. They can watch the shows with them and talk to them about what they are watching.
Pre-Schooler (3 – 4 years) - Up to 1 hour per day
For children of age 2-5 years, it is recommended to limit the screen time to one hour a day and also to screen the content for ensuring interactive, nonviolent, educational and pro-social content for the kids.
Elementary (5 – 10 years) - Up to 1.5 hours per day
At this stage parents can introduce high-quality media and help them understand what they are watching and how to apply it to the real world. Monitoring media content is crucial so that it doesn’t affect their sleep and physical activity. Screen time can be limited upto 1.5 hours per day.
In the teen stage, media is more of a medium to interact and socialise and it is recommended for parents to know their kids’ friends circle and their social network.
Hold your ground: choose your battles
Our kids are born in a world with screens around them and cutting off screens completely for them is difficult and honestly, not necessary. We can empower kids with the screen time they get, teach them how to use that time properly, we can educate them with the risks involved and make them aware of the exploitation that tend to happen and how to be prepared for the situation.
As parents, having clarity around which content is appropriate for them and how much screen time we want to give our kids, reduces the guilt ride for the parent and helps make the atmosphere at home easy, for both children and parents.
If you are going to give them the smart phone for some time, give them happily and take it back happily. Telling them ‘no’ repeatedly is only going to increase their want for it more, leading to addictive behavior. There are going to be arguments and episodes of crying and tantrums when it is time for the kids to switch off their screens, but being calm and consistent with your decision is going to discipline the child and set your records straight.
It is also important to lead by example, as children learn by observing grown-ups. It is important for you to assess your screen time and moderate it as much as possible.
While we are a toy company supporting free play to engage and develop your child’s skills, we feel screen time, on occasions, could be beneficial and frankly a respite! Care giving is a marathon and while we aim for balance, it is ok to take it easy sometimes.
Moreover, a movie night with the family is one of the best ways to create memories!