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Screen addiction is becoming a growing concern for most parents across the globe as more children are turning to devices rather than to people – when they are bored, when they want some entertainment, and even when they are lonely. The time to take your first step to breaking this screen addiction is NOW. Here’s how.
“Look, it’s such a beautiful, sunny day. Don’t you want to go and play with your friends in the park?
“Mommy, please don’t disturb me. I am at a crucial stage of my video game…”
This conversation, which would have been almost unthinkable a decade or so ago, is now heard in most households across the world. Children everywhere are captivated by the world of screens – mobile phones, TV, computers and more – and the charms of the natural world are lost on them. When we were children, some of the fondest memories we built were about chasing butterflies, rolling in the mud, and playing on swings. But today, kids are only interested in how much memory their device has for more games and applications.
It won’t be an exaggeration to say then that children are GLUED to screens. And they don’t seem interested in wanting to unglue themselves.
While it might be tempting to engage kids with a screen to get them out of your face (so that you can focus on the task at hand), it is important to realise just how and how deeply excess of screen time affects children.
KEY TAKEAWAY: According to Shirael Pollack, 15 to 20 minutes of educational and supervised screen time is okay. However, screen time should never substitute other important activities kids engage in – such as play time, social interaction, and learning through experience.
Simple Tricks to Reduce Screen Time for Children
So, how should one prevent technology addiction in children? Here are some tricks to help you guarantee a healthy and active childhood for your kids.
1. Plan a Fun Activity during TV Advertisements
This trick is a great way to make TV time more fruitful. All you have to do is plan a fun activity such as a quick dumb charade, a little race across the living room, or a competition for which child can do the most sit-ups. The catch is that these activities need to be performed during the television advertisements. The benefit of this trick is that your kids will get some physical activity even while watching TV. Plus, if they love the activity a lot, they might even decide to drop the idea of watching the show and continue with the games!
2. No TV in the Background
We don’t always realize it, but passive television watching has a detrimental effect on our children. When the TV is on in the background while they are having a meal or while there are guests at home, it creates a sense of dependency in the minds of the children. They are likely to turn the TV on the next time they are pursuing a hobby or even just playing free-style. This is true even for apps and videos playing on iPads or tablets, without the child actively watching them. Eliminate ALL passive screen-time in your home.
3. Join Your Child in Fun Outdoor Activities during the Week
Many children look at screen time as a source of entertainment. But what if they realise there’s something much more entertaining that will also let them make friends and expose themselves to new stimuli? Kids who have become used to excessive screen time tend to avoid the outdoors as they see it as an interruption. But when you plan fun outdoor activities for the kids, and actually join them, it is likely that they will start seeing the outdoors in a new light.
A few good activities to plan during the week are:
- family sports in the playground, where you play cricket, football or Badminton with the kids
- taking the pet for a walk
- splashing in the pool
- drawing lessons or activities involving trees, butterflies, etc.
The problem of screen addiction has become so serious in recent times that thinkers, experts and brands all over have been trying to support parents in dealing with it.
The problem is, it is not just the children but even us as parents who have started accepting screens as the norm and even the ‘alternative’ for outdoor play. We are afraid that the world is now much more polluted than before, and that our children will fall ill when exposed to infections, germs, mosquitoes, etc., that linger outside. To beat this fear, recently, Good-Knight came out with a terrific offering. The new Good-Knight Fabric Roll-On is a child-safe mosquito repellent that just needs to be dabbed onto the clothes – 4 dots. It keeps mosquitoes away for up to 8 hours, giving children the freedom to play outdoors and parents the peace of mind that their kids won’t come down with deadly diseases.
4. Help Your Child Find Outdoor Buddies
Just like children will enjoy seeing you join in fun activities and games, they will also cherish the chance to make new friends of their age. Some children are shyer than others and may struggle with making friends. Also, if your child has been used to a solitary, sedentary lifestyle so far, he might find it hard to join in outdoor games with other kids.
You can help your child get introduced to other kids in the neighbourhood through little activities. A good way to do this is to organise a treasure hunt in the backyard and ask all the kids to join the hunt. Also organise play dates, outdoor picnics, etc. These new friends will become motivation for your child to go out and engage in physical activities each day.
5. Do an Occasional Digital Detox for the Whole Family
This trick requires considerable investment from the parents, especially considering our phone addiction, but it can reap tremendous benefits. The trick is to set out a clear day every week when the family will not have any screen time. This entails staying away from mobile phones, TV, tablets, computers, etc., and must be observed by every family member. Children learn the best by example, and when they see you indulging in physical or family activities instead, they will follow suit.
If your child shows serious signs of gadget addiction, such as staying up late at night playing video games, terrible tantrums when you take the gadget away, etc., you can consider making this a one-week-long detox. During this period, the child is allowed screens only for unavoidable work such as a homework project.
Note: If your child shows major withdrawal symptoms during the detox, such as refusing to eat or crying constantly, you should consult an expert to discuss how to get rid of addiction. Your child may be experiencing severe technology addiction.
6. Find a Mutually Agreeable Solution With your Child
Is this even possible? Are children smart enough to realise what is good or bad for them? Well, according to child psychologists, it is a good idea to have a heart-to-heart talk with your child and explain to them where you’re coming from. If your child is a toddler or older, you should explain to them why it is necessary to control our screen time. Ask them openly how they suggest this be done. It seems surprising, but children can actually offer amazing solutions and also feel empowered. They don’t then get the feeling that the parent is trying to control them.
Psychologist Ross Greene, who recently authored the book “Raising Human Beings: Creating a Collaborative Partnership with Your Child”, says, “There are kids I’ve worked with who were spending excessive amounts of time in front of electronics, who we learned didn’t have friends, didn’t know how to make them, didn’t feel liked, and didn’t have anything else to do.” This came out only when the parents had an open discussion with their kids.
7. Find a Magic Mantra
Finally, build and establish a magic mantra – a group of words or a phrase – that clearly communicates it is time to stop spending time with screens. Children can be moody and temperamental, and trying to pressurise them into listening to you can lead to tears, tantrums and emotional blackmail. However, kids understand when mom means business! For example, your mantra could be “It’s family-time now”. This is a signal to your children that they have crossed the accepted level of screen time for the day.
What Technology Addiction is Doing to our Children?
Technology addiction is extremely harmful for children and experts have linked it to a number of health and development problems. When kids are young, we often tend to hand them screens to keep them occupied. The moving images and sounds on the screen lure them, and they are quiet long enough for us to finish important household chores. However, it is this early habit that builds the wrong foundation – a tendency to turn to screens to avoid boredom and to seek entertainment.
As per the American Academy of Paediatrics, children under the age of 2 years should not get any screen time at all. For children aged 2-5 years, the time should not exceed 1 hour daily. Spending too much time poring into screens has been associated with the onset of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), poor social skills, and emotional problems. It can also affect your child’s school grades and his ability to pay attention to classwork and homework.
But perhaps, the biggest drawback of excessive screen time is this – negligible physical activity, unwillingness to go outdoors, and a permanent loss of beautiful childhood memories that only playground-time can provide.
So let’s get our kids outdoors, and get them to experience the fun of outdoor play, and in the bargain, ‘unglue’ them from gadgets and screens!
What’s your take on screen time? Do you have any other tricks that have helped you manage your little ones’ screen time and keep them healthy and active?