Screen Time - How much is too much?

Many children today are addicted to smartphones and laptops. But, do you know how much screen time is permissible? This interview with family counsellor Arundhati Swamy will tell you!

By Shashwathi Sandeep  • 8 min read

Screen Time - How much is too much?

Q. Technology – Is it good for my child?

Arundhati Swamy (AS): When we were children, we grew up with radio first and TV came next. It caught our fancy but we turned out fine … But then, we also balanced it with other activities. There is no conclusive evidence to suggest that technology can harm children. In fact, technology prepares them for the future. We can embrace the good things that technology offers. But, when it becomes an addiction, we need to pay attention. Show interest in your child’s activities and appreciate his abilities. Do not be critical each time he is in front of the screen.

Discuss the technology and the guidelines with your child. Work it out together and frame a few rules on its usage. If your child breaks a rule, tell her that she has to face the consequences. Let your child suggest a punishment for herself. She can decide what privileges to give up.

Allow her to break the rules and face consequences. She will grow out of it soon, and realize that it is not worth fighting over. Involve your child in problem-solving as she is competent and knowledgeable enough to do so.

Q. How can I restrict screen time?

AS: Screen activity is not recommended for children who are two years of age and below as it may lead to developmental difficulties. Children above five years of age can participate in decision-making. It makes them feel competent. So, do give them choices and responsibility.

Sometimes, your child may say, “I don’t set any time limits for you, then why should I be restricted by timings?” This happens when there is a power struggle. If they are rebelling, find out the reason. Find ways to give them power when necessary.

Most of the time, it happens because they are corrected in the wrong way. They do not mind being corrected but what they do not like is the way they are corrected. The tone of voice and framing of the words are very important. You can also engage your child in activities like playing games or even take him out. It is also a bad idea to make her sit in front of the TV and eat as she will not be aware of the texture or the taste of the food she is eating.

Q. What can I do about my son’s preference for violent video games?

AS: Most parents who are aware of the bad effects that violent video games can have on children, tend to come down heavily on the activity. But children like to see you provoked and get a vicarious satisfaction seeing your angry face. So, do not over-react, just respond.

Explore what is happening with the child. Is he using the game to feel good because he is not feeling good in real life? Get him to explain his feelings. Children want to achieve in areas they are interested in and video games provide a platform for this.

Take the focus off the gore and blood shown in the video, and have a discussion on why that video game is not good for him. Do not ask WHY questions. If the child is emotionally strong, he will not be easily influenced.

Resorting to video games as a study break is a bad idea. A break can be given for the child to snack on something, or to talk to friends over the phone, but definitely not for playing video games. A child will not be able to concentrate on studies subsequently.

Q. Should my son be on Facebook?

AS: Social networking is here to stay. So, it is a good idea to educate your child on cyber crime, about Google as a search engine and various facets of the web and discuss the guidelines with her. Tell her not to reveal private information or chat with strangers. Explain that what gets posted online can never be taken off, and that this can affect her career later in life. Work with your child on this at home. Schools, too, should talk to their students on cyber crime and educate them on how they can protect themselves.

Talk to your child about cyber-bullying and reassure her that you will always be there for her whenever she needs you. Teach your boys and girls to respect themselves, and think about what they are posting before they actually do it. As a parent, be watchful. They are children and they can make mistakes. You may want to be friends with your child’s friend on Facebook. But, if this causes a conflict between your child and you, back off.

Q. How do I deal with inappropriate content?

AS: Pornography is scary for parents. Children are too young for porn and what the porn films show are constructed, and not natural. The best thing you can do is to filter out inappropriate content. Help them understand that porn is nothing but a deviance.

Q. Should my child be reading news stories on rape?

AS: News stories these days showcase nothing but violence and rape. Children become scared after reading such stories online. Discuss with your children how they can be safe. Talk about genitals and how to take care of the body. “Do not allow anyone to touch your private parts”– keep repeating this message to them. Talk to your boys and teach them to respect girls. Answer all questions honestly in age-appropriate ways. 

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