Parent Talk: How Two Indian Moms Manage Their Kids’ Screen Time

As parents, we understand that children and TV go hand-in-hand – there’s always a good song, a good movie, or a funny advertisement that catches the child’s attention, and from there on, it’s a battle to take the child’s eyes off the screen! With so many new kiddie shows and films coming out, it’s getting tougher for parents to set rules and restrictions. Having screen time for kids is beneficial in its own way, but how does one draw a line? How much screen time is bad, and how much is good?

Studies conducted by the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) show that spending too much time in front of screens has been linked to kids not getting enough sleep, getting poor grades, and being more prone to obesity.

Now, we know how much simpler it is to hand a wailing toddler a phone to shut him up than to plan an elaborate distraction every single day. So, how do moms in India tackle screen time issues? Let’s find out.

We spoke to two mothers – Sandhya Lal Challapalli from Mumbai, a mom to a seven and a ten-year-old, and Arwa Saifuddin from Pune, a mom to an almost-four-year-old – and got some interesting insights into what it’s really like to have kids in the age where screens and TV are omnipresent. One of the most important things we learnt from these interviews is that each mom thinks and works in accordance with how her child is, so every mom’s experience is subjective.

That said, let’s see what these moms had to say!

1. Arwa Saifuddin, Pune

Arwa works from home and is a mom to a creative and independent 4-year-old who enjoys watching shows on YouTube. As a mother, Arwa faces just one challenge – feeding her fussy-eating child nutritious food without the presence of a screen. What are her opinions on screen time? Read on!

1. For how long do you allow your child to watch TV or use a smartphone?

Arwa: My daughter usually doesn’t watch TV because I don’t watch TV myself – it’s just a piece of furniture in my house because I prefer reading. But we usually connect the phone to the TV using Chrome and allow her to watch her favourite cartoons or nursery rhymes. She mostly watches these shows while having her meals because it helps her eat well. So, divided into 15-20 minute schedules, she watches TV for about an hour every day.

2. How do you get your child to follow limited screen time?

Arwa: We have already told her that she will get to watch her shows for a limited time. She obviously doesn’t want to give the phone back – I just take it away from her. She does throw tantrums for 5-10 minutes after that, but we don’t pay any attention to her. She forgets within that much time, gets distracted, and starts playing with her toys.

3. How do you manage your child’s tantrums when you limit screen time?

Arwa: I ignore her tantrums, so she calms down on her own. She knows she isn’t going to get any attention after a point, so she diverts her mind and starts playing with her toys instead.

4. Do you ever let your child binge-watch their favourite shows every once in a while?

Arwa: Yes! She loves watching Peppa Pig – that’s her favourite. But most often, she plays her favourite nursery rhymes and jumps and dances around the house, so there’s less watching involved.

5. Are you worried about the amount of time your child spends watching TV or using screens?

Arwa: Not really, because we don’t allow her much screen time to begin with. She also understands at this point that she will not get to watch her shows for longer than a certain amount of time. After a minor meltdown, she gets distracted on her own and finds other ways to entertain herself.

6. Do you believe that screen time is a problem for kids these days?

Arwa: I think it’s a problem if kids are addicted to it. And I feel that a lot of kids these days are addicted – after all, it’s so easy to access because we have televisions, iPads, and smartphones everywhere, and kids are really smart! But I feel that sometimes screen time is also a boon. For example, my daughter is a fussy eater, but she eats well when she’s watching her favourite shows. Kids are also getting to see and learn new stuff on YouTube like rhymes, songs, etc. But of course, I always keep an eye on what she’s watching.

7. What shows do you allow your child to watch?

Arwa: She usually watches Peppa Pig as it is her favourite show, but she also watches a lot of play-doh videos – she has clay at home so she watches the show and tries to make things with her clay. She also watches other things like sand-play videos and dollhouse videos. I make sure to keep such videos handy so that when she accesses my phone, these kinds of videos are all she can see.

8. There are so many gadgets, apps, etc. available for kids today. Do you think they help kids in any way?

Arwa: They do, I feel. For instance, my daughter was watching some ‘kitchen set video’ and told us that she wanted it. We bought it for her, and she loved playing with it – now she has begun to understand that I cook, so she sometimes tries to imitate me in her own little kitchen. She has also started helping with serving dinner! In some videos, she’s also seen kids pick up their toys after play, and has also started doing that. She has also learned lots of new words and phrases. So, there are also some very real benefits to some of the stuff she watches.

9. How do you think your child will react if you impose a ‘no screen time’ rule for a week?

Arwa: I think she’ll throw too many tantrums! That is mostly because she is a fussy eater and won’t eat if her favourite show isn’t on. So, she may just refuse to eat!

10. How do you think the problem of screen time can be solved by parents?

Arwa: We have always made sure to keep the habit of going outdoors to play alive in our daughter – that is one thing parents can do. I think that because she watches me and sees that I don’t watch much television, she too isn’t fascinated by it. I also think that she prefers drawing and writing more than screens– she keeps coming to me and asking me for papers to draw on. I let her do what she wants, even if she’s making a mess. Also, now there are so many activity boxes for kids that keep them occupied. I know a lot of moms who get these boxes for their kids. I think these are great to keep your child away from the screen. I think kids should be encouraged to go out to play. Today, there are so many activity classes out there as well, where parents can enrol their kids and keep them away from unnecessary screen time.

11. Lastly, just for a day, would you take up a No Screen Day Challenge? If yes, why?

Arwa: I would definitely give it a try and not allow my child any screen time for a day and see how it works!

Click here to take the #NoScreenDay pledge and see how many moms have pledged to keep their kids off screens for an entire day!

2. Sandhya Lal Challapalli, Mumbai

Sandhya, also a working mom, has two active children aged 10 and 7. With both her kids growing up and becoming more conscious of the content they are consuming, Sandhya’s outlook is a tad different. Kids today are learning how to use smartphones to excel in academics aside from other things – how does a mom draw a balance in such a scenario? Read on!

1. For how long do you allow your child to watch TV or use a smartphone?

Sandhya: If it’s a school day and they don’t have any homework, they get to watch TV for about half an hour. Smartphones are a complete no-no because of the small screen and the radiation that is not good for the eyes. If they do want to watch a programme from YouTube or something, I cast it on the TV via Chrome. That also gives them the option of changing the programme, and the Internet has a lot more options than our TV does.

2. How do you get your child to follow limited screen time?

Sandhya: They know they have a certain limit, and as soon as the time is over, I take away the phone. Sometimes I need some peace of mind to work, or maybe if we’re on a holiday – then I let them watch TV or use the smartphone. There’s a system that has been established – they know that if they don’t give the phone back, they won’t get it back the next time they ask. As a parent, it’s important to stick by your words.

3. How do you manage your child’s tantrums when you limit screen time?

Sandhya: If I ask for the phone back, they know they have to give it back, no questions asked.

4. Do you ever let your child binge-watch their favourite shows every once in a while?

Sandhya: Yes, but mealtimes are the only times when they are not allowed to watch TV. That’s a rule in our house, and this was something I followed even when I was a child. We use this time to eat together and talk. When there’s no TV, the child pays attention to the food she is eating. Even we as adults don’t keep our phones next to us or use them during mealtimes. But of course, there will be days when the child is sick and needs some distraction. Then, it’s okay.

5. Are you worried about the amount of time your child spends watching TV or using screens?

Sandhya: Yes, it does get a parent upset. In today’s day and age, everything is going digital, but there’s very ltitle you can do about it. My daughter’s school has an app that students can use to reinforce the concepts they are learning in class. They provide the students with a phone but no SIM card, and they encourage them to use the app at the end of the school day – they call it ‘mobile learning’. But it’s not so much about the time they spend watching, but what exactly they watch that concerns me. It’s the age of information overload. It’s tough to constantly monitor what your child is watching.

6. Do you believe that screen time is a problem for kids these days?

Sandhya: The phone has become a kind of babysitter for a lot of kids. It’s scary because a lot of them are getting addicted to it. Even if we don’t always see it, kids also can be stressed – they de-stress by watching shows. Sometimes parents are too busy to be available for their kids, and so, handing over a gadget keeps the child occupied. I also believe that kids often emulate what their parents are doing. If you’re doing it too much, your child will see no wrong in doing it too much.

7. What shows do you allow your child to watch?

Sandhya: I let them watch songs, music videos, DIY videos on arts and crafts. Sometimes, we watch educational videos that are relevant to what they are studying in school. Videos like those are very helpful because kids pick up visuals really fast. They watch certain cartoons they like as well. I try not to let them watch too many Hindi films or item songs because I feel like the content is not suited for them. They can listen to the songs, but not watch them.

8. There are so many gadgets, apps, etc. available for kids today. Do you think they help kids in any way?

Sandhya: Some of the things are really helpful because a lot of kids don’t pick up concepts in the usual way it is taught in schools. For example, my Hindi isn’t great so I have a Hindi app for my daugther who uses it to understand and repeat the basics of the language. She picked it up much faster and it was interesting because it would teach her to outline the alphabet as well. So, it’s not just viewing but also doing. YouTube Kids is good because I know there is no inappropriate content on it.

9. How do you think your child will react if you impose a ‘no screen time’ rule for a week?

Sandhya: They would get very upset and not know what to do! But they’ve managed without screens in the past – like when we went on a holiday. They had something to constantly keep them occupied, because of which they didn’t touch the phone or the TV for one whole week!

10. How do you think the problem of screen time can be solved by parents?

Sandhya: Parents have to spend time with their children – that’s one way to solve this problem. Also, they must give their children alternate things to do. My younger daughter loves playing with her Lego toys, so I encourage her by adding to her collection. Maybe a child likes to paint, colour, write, or read – find out what your child likes and give them the opportunity to do that. Give them papers, colours, books, or something else to keep them busy. If they see you doing other things aside from using your phone, they will follow suit.

11. Lastly, just for a day, would you take up a No Screen Day Challenge? If yes, why?

Sandhya: Yes, I will – I would love to take it up! It’s difficult for me not to use screens for a day because of work, so to tell my kids not to use it would be really challenging! I would take up this because it would be as much a challenge for me as it will be for my kids!

All said and done, the Internet definitely has its advantages when it comes to learning activities. Both moms seem to think so as well – as long as there’s a limit to how much children consume in a day. The age-old ways of spending time – dancing, singing, writing, painting, or simply playing with toys need to make a comeback because, let’s be real, those are some great ways to make childhood memories! These activities can keep children at a healthy distance from information and sensory overload. Most importantly, parents need to spend time with their children so as to nurture a bond that can outlast any Internet fad.

So, would you take up the #NoScreenDay Pledge with your child? Click here to take the pledge!