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“Mumma, can I watch Dora the Explorer for just 10 more minutes? Mumma, please, please Mumma! Only 10 minutes.” Does this ring a bell at all?
You love your kid and her innocent pleas, don’t you? How can you, a mother – any mother, for that matter – deny such a sincere request, especially when it is teamed with big puppy eyes, crocodile tears and if you’re lucky, a cute pout too? You give in, and the next thing you know, it’s nearly dinner time and she is still glued to the screen, and you are left feeling like you need to draw a line somewhere.
Parents today are facing a challenge that perhaps no generation has ever faced before, i.e., screen addiction in kids! ‘Screen time’ – the term is enough to make a parent anxious or worse, guilty! But we’re not here to add to your guilt. We’re here to help you see how other moms, just like you, handle screen usage for their kids. Let’s look at how these Indian moms regulate their kids’ screen time, and any associated struggles they may face. Who knows, you might find yourself identifying with them more than you imagined!
Do Parents Need to Limit Their Children’s Screen Time?
We grew up in a time when ‘TV time’ was one of many things we did in a day. Now, there are digital versions of nearly everything we once did without screens! What does a modern-day mom do? You certainly cannot banish all forms of gadgets from your home! And you shouldn’t either! Your child is growing up in a world where digital knowledge is an essential life skill. Besides, with the convenience of having tons of educational and learning apps at the click of a button, why would you deprive your child?
At the same time, however, screen addiction is also a real problem today. If you feel like your little one would rather be looking at a screen all day than doing any other activity, you’ll definitely need to step in and take action. So, what’s the solution?
EXERCISE your authority to set rules. Use your power for good, while you can.
Gunjan Sawhney, a mother of two girls, Naisha (8.5) and Namaha (6.5), had an interesting insight to share when asked if she thought she should limit her children’s screen time. She said that her children watch television for only about 30 to 40 minutes a day. They aren’t fond of tablets or smartphones as they are usually involved in other activities. She pointed out that the root cause of the problem is excessive usage of screens by parents themselves, and that this habit gets passed on to their kids. Gunjan said, “I don’t watch much television or use other types of screens often. So, I guess my kids observe that and as a result, they don’t show much interest in it either. Kids observe and learn from us, so as parents, we should make sure that we teach them the right thing.”
Gunjan’s ‘lead by example’ style of parenting is a great, non-intrusive way of guiding and forming healthier habits in kids. But we understand that some children are more inclined to choose screens over other activities, irrespective of their parents’ usage.
Shaishta Tarannum, mother to 10-year-old Rehan, said that she lets her son watch television for about an hour on weekdays. On weekends, this time limit usually exceeds to 2 to 2.5 hours. But she is happy that her son doesn’t watch cartoons alone, and enjoys watching arts and craft videos, TED Talks, and adventurous series too. However, on days, when he throws tantrums, Shaishta gets her son to do simple household tasks before letting him have his own way.
If children learn something new by using screens, just like Rehan does from watching educational and creative shows, screen time is not all bad. In fact, it can prove to be productive too!
Samidha Mathur, from Navi Mumbai, is a mum of two daughters, Tishta (4) and Nihira (3). She has set a daily screen time limit for her children – it can last for about half an hour to an hour. Do her rules work on her children? Samidha admitted that she avoids handing her phone over to her daughters, as it gets difficult to get them off it. When asked how she handles the situation, she said, “At first, I ask them politely to keep the phone away. If they don’t listen, I raise my voice, and they understand. I also try to distract them with different means; for example, I ask them to sort vegetables and keep them in the refrigerator. Small tasks like these keep them busy, and then they don’t remember that they have to watch television or play games on a smartphone.”
Distraction seems to be a great way to begin, right?
Here’s What We Think!
We appreciate the parenting styles of these moms! Any attempt to keep children engaged is a challenge and over time, every parent finds a method that works best for them.
As Gunjan said, kids do learn by observing their parents. Ever caught yourself wanting to disconnect from the virtual world every now and then? Why not make screen-free days a family tradition? Think ice cream dates, DIY sessions, sandcastles, and tea parties! Your child might initially throw a tantrum, but once she learns that you have her undivided attention, she will begin to look forward to some mommy-child time! Until that happens, you can find ways to keep her engaged, like Samidha does! Parenting requires tact, and only you’ll know what works best for your little one.
How Much Screen Time Is Enough?
Before you beat yourself up about giving in to excess gadget usage, let’s get things clear. Yes, there is a healthy usage limit and yes, your child will cross that limit more often than not. It is alright, especially on days when you’d rather she stays glued to her show while you catch a small break. However, it is always good to stay informed about the effects of a little extra screen time here and there.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages parents to develop healthy screen time habits in children from early on. The new guidelines of AAP with regards to the usage of screens for kids are mentioned below –
- Children between 0 and 18 months of age should NOT be introduced to any forms of screens, excluding video-chatting with friends and relatives.
- Children between 18 and 24 months of age can be introduced to digital media (digital content), but the time for which they use screens should be limited.
- For children between the ages of 2 and 5 years, a screen time limit of not more than an hour is recommended.
Parents of kids above the age of 6 should also set a strict screen time limit for their children and be conscious of the type of content they’re consuming. If your kiddo is above 6 years of age, it is advised to be extra mindful of the content she watches. Children are extremely impressionable in their formative years. If screen time is negatively impacting your child’s behaviour or sleep patterns, consider setting more stringent rules in a way you find best.
How to Establish Healthy Screen Time Habits in Children
So, you want your child to watch her favourite cartoon for not more than an hour while you watch your favourite shows on Netflix for as long as you wish? Might not work that way! To convince your kiddo, you need expert tips – and by ‘expert tips’, we mean tips from some real mommies who’ve been there and done that! So here you go –
1. To see the change, be the change!
Your child is smarter than you think and you didn’t raise her to say, “Your wish is my command, mumma!” all the time. She won’t listen to you (or obey you without asking ‘Why?’) unless you give her reasons why. So, if you want your little one to develop healthy screen time habits, first, start with yourself. Use the extra time for more cuddles, more talking, and creating more memories together. Doesn’t that sound like a great trade off!
2. Let your child figure it out on her own.
If you tend to yell or scold your child to get her to listen to you, remember that you’ll find that she either chooses defiance and rebellion, or will begin to become fearful of you. Of course, you want what’s best for her, and sometimes, yelling inevitably happens. But as you will later find out, it might not be the wisest method of teaching. Instead, explain your point of view, and maintain a safe space for your child to communicate. Tell her about what she is missing out on if she decides to remain in front of a screen all day. Sometimes, it is best to let children figure out the good and the bad on their own!
Mommy Gunjan Sawhney follows this tip. She said, “I don’t dictate terms or order my kids around – I let them realise things on their own. Sometimes, when they throw tantrums, I let them watch television if that’s what they want. But when their eyes start hurting or they get a headache, they understand where it is coming from. This makes them realise that they should have listened to their Mumma.”
Isn’t Gunjan’s parenting approach worth admiring? You don’t need to have screen time battles with your child; on some days, let her decide on her own and she will understand why you say the things you do! This also helps develop a system of independence and mutual respect.
3. Use healthy distractions.
As mentioned earlier, our moms have a few healthy tricks up their sleeve to keep their kids away from screens as much as possible. Mom Samidha Mathur asks her kids to do simple household tasks. She believes that by getting them involved in these tasks, they develop a sense of responsibility and when they have a task at hand, they don’t think about their favourite shows or video games at all. You can also try mommy Shaishta’s trick; whenever her son asks her to let him watch television or play games on smartphones, she gets him to clean his room first before allowing him to watch it. She is of the opinion that by giving him these simple tasks, she is making him responsible. More power to these moms and their clever ways!
4. If it’s worth the argument, do it (and don’t feel guilty about it.)!
It’s that simple! If your child is slowly turning into a screen addict and you believe that the only thing that can save her is strict rules, then make them. Yes, there will meltdowns, constant begging, whining, and trying to bargain, and you will be tempted to give in, but resist the temptation! Be firm in your decisions and don’t worry about what others will say. You don’t have to feel guilty about protecting your child when it’s necessary – you’re being a good parent!
Kids of this generation are born in the age of the Internet and advanced technology. Depriving them of gadgets will actually cripple their ability to function in the world when they grow up. That said, you don’t want excess screen time to rob your child of the simple pleasures of childhood, do you?
No screen or app has been able to replicate guiding your child’s hand as she learns to draw, reading bedtime stories to her, the happiness that comes from precious cuddles, and all the good things that come only once in a lifetime. This is why we’d suggest keeping aside a few hours each day, or alternately, having a designated No Screen Day once a week for your little one, to connect with your little one. You can fill this day with activities and experiences and trust us, these will be memories you will revisit often in life.
Think that an entire day away from screens will be tough for your child to manage? Thousands of moms are taking a pledge to try and accomplish just ONE day of zero screen time for their kids. Do you want to join in? Click here to take the pledge and join the ‘No Screen Day Challenge’, and connect with other moms to see what they’ve planned for their children!