Written by Ashwin Dewan and published on 11 October 2021.
Screen addiction is common in today's technology-driven world, especially in kids. So, how does one tackle this problem that is growing by the day? Experts and parents give their take
There is no denying the impact of gadgets such as television, computers, tablets, and smartphones on our lives. Often, what you see and hear shapes your thoughts. Now, put children in your place and imagine the kind of impact gadgets have on young minds.
The current status quo, where most kids are addicted to gadgets, is worrying. There are many reasons for this increasing use of gadgets. We, parents, play a part too. We often turn to devices to help keep our kids engaged. From pacifying a crying child to helping with their learning to compensating for 'not being there', gadgets provide an easy fix to many daily dilemmas.
Expert speakThere must be a framework for gadget use because there is too much screen time and, given the lockdown, kids are getting a lot of social and attention disorders.
My kids are not allowed screen time at all, apart from schoolwork throughout the week, and while they are allowed during the weekend, it's with limits. They are allowed two hours because we usually watch a movie together as a family on the weekends.
If they are watching a movie on their own, they get a time slot from 1 to 2 p.m.; that is an hour. As parents, we are strict about this. We also monitor the kind of content they are watching.
- Tanya Khubchandani Vatsa, author and healthcare strategist
As parents, we have an essential role in limiting the excess use of gadgets in children. Here are a few things we can do:
Look for alternatives: Alternative activities can help kids move away from gadgets and turn their attention to something that will build creativity.
Is there a hobby that your kid is interested in? Does he love to hike or dance or cook? Use his interests to find ways to keep him engaged. It may take time, but the more your kid engages in these activities, the less time he will spend on gadgets.
Ask your kid to assist in household chores: Letting your kid help you with household chores will not only limit her gadget usage but also help her learn life skills.
Shweta Baraily, the mother of six-year-old Shrotram, says her son often helps her out while cooking. It has strengthened their bond and has led to many fun sessions in the kitchen.
"While cooking, I let my son put all the cut veggies into a bowl, peel eggs, mix ingredients, and put leftovers into a trash bag. He was not interested initially but now looks forward to the task."Observe his gadget usage times: There are time patterns when it comes to gadget usage. Kids gravitate towards their phones or tablets more during certain times of the day. For instance, with online classes still going on, chances are most kids rush to their gadgets when classes end. Try to break this pattern. Ask him to paint, tidy up his room, or go for a walk in the neighborhood instead.
Asking children to limit their screen time in the times of online classes might seem a little unreasonable. It's essential to make them understand the need to have a connection with the offline world too. Start by the pros and cons and remember to tackle this issue with positive reinforcements.
You must play a board game together or talk about the topics they are interested in. Introduce them to good books, read with them or read out to them. Books bring out creative expressions and imagination in children and are the best alternative to dependence on gadgets. We need to understand people depend on gadgets when they don't find a better activity to indulge in, and likewise for children too.
Dr Ishita Mukherji, psychologist, associate counselor - World Mental Healthcare Association & Counsellors Council of India.
Say HELLO to family time: As advocated by ParentCircle's #GadgetFreeHour campaign, set aside time for the entire family (say an hour) where everyone puts down their gadgets and spends quality time with one another. It could be as simple as talking or playing a board game or singing together! Make this a regular affair, and your kid will gradually look forward to family time.
Make changes… but gradually! There is no shortcut to success and certainly no quick way to make your kid put down his gadgets for good. So don't ban your kid from watching television or playing games on her phone or surfing social media sites in one go. It is not simply possible!
The trick is to play smart and introduce activities that make your kid spend less time on gadgets. Let her know the importance of getting up from time to time, eating, stretching, etc., especially after staring at a screen for hours on end.
Be a role model: Kids often imitate their parents. It is therefore vital that you limit your own screen time. After all, you would not want your kid to catch you on your phone for hours after you have advised her not to do the same, would you?
Make sure to complete all office work within a fixed time and use the free time to engage and bond with your kid.
"Setting boundaries for both parents and kids is extremely important for their mental wellbeing and health. Parents themselves need to adhere to some rules when it comes to gadget use and give significance to other activities. Kids will learn what they see and not what's told to them."
- Shweta Tanwar Mukherjee, photographer and content creator
Set time limits on gadgets: Set up a schedule for your kid’s screen time and ensure that he puts down the gadget and engages himself in other ways once the period is up.
Archita Shashikanth, the mother of eight-year-old Shivram, has set certain time limits for screentime.
Since the time he was first introduced to gadgets, Shivram has been following a set rule – an hour thrice a week to use gadgets. During this time, he can choose to watch TV, play games, or use the computer. However, during weekends, we have imposed a gadget-free rule where all spare time has to be spent reading, playing board games, arts and crafts, or simply playing outside. Over time, he has gotten used to this schedule and, in fact, looks forward to spending time without gadgets.
Content is evolving daily, and with such rapid digitalization and easy access, regulations by parents hold the key (it needs to be done very subtly and smartly). As parents, it's important to keep an eye on the content your kid is watching and whether it's suitable for their age and stage of development. Dedicated hours need to be set so kids can enjoy other activities like free play, craft, experiments, and pursue other hobbies. For a kid's overall development, a balanced mix of everything is needed.
- Shweta Tanwar Mukherjee
Create technology-free zones in the house: One great way to limit gadget usage in kids is to create zones in the house where technology is barred. One great example would be the dining room or the living room. Here, make it clear to your kids that only meals and conversations are allowed.
Explain why you are limiting gadget time: One of the most important aspects of limiting gadget time is explaining to your kid WHY. If your kids fully understand the motive behind your wanting to restrict their gadget use, they are more likely to follow the rules. If your kids think you are being bossy, they will look for ways to avoid the rules and use their gadgets for longer.
You can always start with the small and the most effective steps. The first is to sit and communicate! Educate your child about the advantages and disadvantages of gadget usage! Let them know of the harm that comes along their way. Emphasize the pros as well! Encourage him/her to use gadgets to follow their passion and interests. To make them stay connected to the offline environment, establish family rules like no tech usage during meals, study time, or recreational activities. Do not be harsh or reprimanding, it can make your child hostile or rebellious towards you. Set a roster, limit the time of their gadget use, and make it seem like it's a privilege for them and not a right."
- Dr Ishita Mukherji
So, there you have it. Technology is not a villain and should not be looked upon as one. However, gadget use should be limited in kids. As parents, it is up to us to make our kids discover the world beyond gadgets and live their childhood to the fullest.
Takeaways for parents: