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Screen time for kids: We bring you fun ways to make the experience a creative one

Arundhati Swamy Arundhati Swamy 12 Mins Read

Arundhati Swamy Arundhati Swamy


Mother, grandmother, family and school counsellor

From writing a blog and planning a vacation to creating a photo collage, there are a zillion ways your child can use phones and tablets to enhance her creative, organizational, and technical skills!

Primary to Pre-teen
Screen time for kids: We bring you fun ways to make the experience a creative one

Screens and children-indeed a disturbing twosome that gets parents in a tizzy. Quite understandable, for two likely reasons. One, you're aware of the impact screens can have on your child's overall health (because you know screens can affect your health too!). And two, your fears and anxiety are lurking in the back of your mind- is my child getting over-dependent on screens?

So, who do you think is more stressed about screens? Is it you, or your child? You're probably raising your hand right now. And whom do you turn to for guidance and tips to relieve your stress? Well, ParentCircle, of course! So, here's what we would like to share with you.

  • Yes, we're all on screens more than ever. Yes, we're worried about our children's use of screens.
  • Yes, the onus is on us to regulate, set the rules and deal with the ensuing screen-time battles with our children.
  • And yes, you're not alone. But you already know that!

What you may not know is that there exists an excellent antidote that's worth your attention, and it's called Creativity. It has the potential to take a lot of the fears around screen time right out of you. Stop for a moment, and change your thought, "Screen time is bad for my child," to "Screen time provides opportunities to bring out my child's creativity." You have gained a new perspective, haven't you?

Imagine what can happen when you allow Creativity and Opportunity to come together online for your child-endless possibilities that are inventive and imaginative, not to mention how they could prepare your child for the digital world of the future.

Now, let's take a closer look at how screen time presents great opportunities to encourage your child's imaginative thinking and expression - and yours too! Remember, these recommendations are best for children above 8 years of age.

Your Child the Champ

Do you insist on only 'educational' digital content as being worthy of your child's attention? Well, you might want to think again, and here's why. Exposure to educational content and nothing else squeezes the joy and inspiration out of curiosity and exploration, till there's nothing left except frustration and inertia in your child.

Being usefully engaged online is not just about schoolwork, homework, and studies. Opportunities abound for creativity online. Your child can explore and learn anything that interests them through smartphones and tablets. Your child is a natural champion at engaging in creative exploration, provided you let them take the lead, and you follow their interests and are willing to learn from her. So, think twice before making rigid screen-time rules, which can destroy your child's innate appetite for imagination and self-expression.

Your child may well be learning to play a musical instrument, or composing a song with their friends, listening to a serious podcast, attending a virtual book-reading session, or learning good manners and etiquette from characters in an animated video. The possibilities are endless when opportunity meets creativity.

Kayaan, a 10-year-old, has been learning to play the piano for two years. His music teacher had explained to him how music is arranged in patterns. Once, while working on math sums at school, he struggled to complete the sums. His teacher helped him see the series of problem-solving steps as patterns. In a flash, Kayaan remembered how his piano teacher, too, had used the word 'patterns.' The memory of patterns in music helped Kayaan relate to the concept his math teacher was trying to explain to him. "Now I understand!" thought Kayaan, and his fingers began to play a tune on imaginary piano keys on his desk.

Your Child the Learner

It's the amount of screen time that worries you, isn't it? What if you were to shift your attention from 'how much time' to 'what content' your child is engaging with? Instead of berating your child for using your smartphone, you could first ask to see what he's watching and start a conversation about what is so interesting about it. Giving your child a chance to explain himself helps you reserve your judgment for later.

Arjun, a 12-year-old, was busy on his smartphone and didn't hear his dad call out to him. "How many times are you going to watch those matches? What a waste of time!" his dad yelled. Handing the phone over to his dad, Arjun explained that he was checking out the statistics of the IPL cricket tournament, and then went on to describe his own complex statistical analysis of a match, much to his dad's amazement. "I had no idea you were interested in stats!" said Arjun's dad. "Could you show me how all this number-crunching works?" Arjun's eyes lit up and he smiled. "Wow," he thought. "Dad wants me to teach him. How cool is that?"

Your Child the Analyzer

Worried about your child's thinking skills becoming dull and foggy? Get them to write two different endings to their favorite movie. Ask them to do a critical analysis of the storyline of a movie or to think of ways to improve upon a game show. Let them become a critic of the way news is reported on television and ask them how they would handle it differently. Or they could mute the audio and give a running commentary on a sporting event. Although their analysis of things may seem flawed to you, remember that their thinking skills are being honed to find creative solutions to complex problems.

Subhash (13) and his sister Sunita (11) had just begun to enjoy their favorite teleserial one evening when there was a sudden power shutdown. Their restlessness grew, as their screen time was coming to an end. Their mom could sense their disappointment at missing the episode, so she said, "I have an idea. How about you create your own story in this episode? During your next screen time, you can watch the episode and compare your version of the story with the actual story." The siblings discussed, argued, and then decided to create their own stories. When one child told her story, the other child was allowed to ask questions about the details of the story.

Your Child the Creator

Are you stuck for ideas on how to support your child's creativity? Thanks to technology, a wide range of creative tools and materials are available-apps, easy-to-handle software, and communities for like-minded people. Your child may want to explore these resources to gain more knowledge or discover where their core interests lie; gain mastery of a topic, or collaborate with others on a project.

The creative fields have so much to offer:

  • 'word-smart' child - vlogging, blogging, debating, storytelling, creative writing
  • 'picture-smart' child - painting, designing, multimedia, photography
  • 'music-smart' child - writing songs, creating tunes, playing a musical instrument
  • 'number-smart' child - number games, number puzzles
  • 'body-smart' child - dance, martial arts, fitness
  • 'nature-smart' child - gardening, zoo-keeping, forestry
  • 'self-smart' child - soft skills, personality development
  • 'people-smart' child - volunteering, group activities, social service

Shamina's mother heard faint strains of music coming from her child's bedroom. Peeping in, she saw her 8-year-old singing a song she had never heard before. "It's a pretty tune," she thought. "Where did you learn that song?" she asked. "Amma, I made it up. There's this app that shows us how to make up tunes on the piano. Do you like my song?" Shamina said. Her mom was surprised to learn that an app could help her daughter create a song! "Yes, of course. Will you sing once more for me?" she said to Shamina, who was beaming with pride.

Don't you feel good when your child, like Shamina, engages in creative pursuits? Would you really want to impose strict time limits that curb your child's explorations? Quite unlikely, though you would rightly want to ensure that they have regular sleep habits, help with chores, and attend to schoolwork without being glued to a screen 24/7.

Your Child the Activist

When Tanya's dad noticed his 14-year-old using the internet every evening for over a week, he was worried. He checked her internet activity and was happy to learn that Tanya was part of an environmental group that focused on forest and wildlife conservation. "So this is why she asked me those questions on elephants!" he thought. He was grateful that she had found a group that shared her interests, and he realized that he should listen to and support his daughter when she talks about her interests.

Would you like your child to grow into a caring human being, to stand up for justice, and to speak up for herself? Then, like Tanya's dad, you need to watch what your child's watching on screens. Although you may not always appreciate what you see, you can use the characters and events as a springboard to talk about equality, gender bias, inclusion, diversity, and family values. "What do you think about the way the immigrants are being treated in the movie?" is one way of starting a conversation. And if you dislike the videos your child watches or the games they play, do explain your reasons in a straightforward manner, "I think you're too young to understand some of the things shown in this video. I am responsible for guiding you. But I am comfortable with the other videos you watch." They may not give up easily, but at least you have taken a firm stand.

Your Child the Organizer

Are you alarmed by the information explosion your child is exposed to? You have every reason to feel so. But what if you could direct your child's innate curiosity toward building their executive skills, such as taking in relevant information, planning, organizing, and coordinating multiple tasks? You don't need to go far. Your home is a great place to start. Get your child to plan a family holiday or a festival celebration.

Take, for instance, 9-year-old Bharani. When he was nagging his parents for a vacation, they asked him to plan a weekend trip. A few days later, they were thrilled when Bharani presented a plan that showed his excellent research skills. Bharani had spoken to his friends and browsed the internet for possible destinations. He shared with his parents, pictures of a few places, the accommodation details, and the two routes he had discovered to reach a destination he favored. Impressed with his son's effort and abilities, Bharani's dad showed his son how to make a travel budget. Together, they returned to the internet so that his dad could talk to people in a travel community Bharani had discovered but couldn't have access to as a minor.

Thus, your child's creative thinking is stimulated when they use the internet to gather information. So, ask your child to plan a trip or a dinner party and help him adapt ideas, work within a budget and improvise using available resources. Efficiency and effectiveness - what more could you ask for!

Also, encourage your child to write a blog, create a photo collage of a family event, sketch memorable scenes, draw cartoons or make a video of behind-the-scenes mistakes that add a comical flavor to the event, using digital tools. You can even share with him the relevant videos so that they learn how to use technology to boost their creativity.

So, there you have all the good reasons for your child to spend useful and purposeful time on screens. Besides, allowing your child to mine the benefits of the digital world will help you raise a successful digital citizen. All you need to do is acknowledge the endless possibilities of using screens, build a positive attitude toward screen time, and help your child build resilience and skills to handle the risks.

We do hope we have allayed your fears about screen time, and that you're open to exploring the opportunities screens offer in bringing out your child's creative expression!

In a nutshell

  1. All screen time is not bad. More than how much time your child spends on screens, what really matters is what they do on screens.
  2. Do not jump to negative conclusions about your child's screen usage. Instead, get to know what activities your child engages with on screens.
  3. Screen time gives lots of opportunities for your child's creative exploration and expression.

What you can do right away

  • Mute the TV and have your cricket buff provide commentary during a match.
  • Have your bookworm attend a virtual book-reading session or create a video review of their favorite book.
  • Have your travel enthusiast research the tickets, stay options, and sightseeing tours for your next family vacation.
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