Mother, grandmother, family and school counsellor
Instead of imposing stringent rules and fighting gadget wars with your child, how about focusing on the benefits of screen time-and creating some joy and quiet at home?
The concern over the impact of screen time on children was building up long before the pandemic struck. Now, concern seems to be giving way to alarm. You are glued to screens for sustenance and social connection-be it with family and friends, work, academics, health, entertainment, shopping or managing the household. More screen time than you had ever imagined, for your child and you. Your worries are genuine. There are pitfalls no doubt, and they are not the same for all. And there's more fear, more guilt and more pressure on children. So, what can you do under such circumstances?
Well, you could think about making your peace with screen time! After all, screen time has literally become a lifeline during these difficult times. Undeniably, screen time does have genuine benefits for your child, such as learning, a source of fun and preparing your child for digital opportunities in the future. Besides, you know how hard it is for children to cope with the social isolation imposed by the closure of schools and the fear of community spread of the coronavirus. Extra screen time for interactive sessions with friends, classmates and loved ones is vital for reviving your child's emotional and social well-being.
The key is to ensure that screen time is just one of many activities in your child's day. Here's a checklist to help you. Make sure that your child:
? has a good night's sleep
? does not snack during screen time
? progresses well at school
? has lots of physical activity, fun and time to relax
? turns to you for support during big emotional moments
? stays in touch with friends and loved ones
? engages actively in a hobby or interest
Apart from paying attention to these very important aspects of your child's life, you may also focus on establishing a comfortable relationship with screen time.
Most of us have an almost inseparable relationship with screens. How anxious we become the moment the network signal disappears, the phone battery runs low, or worse, lose our phone. It would serve us well to understand that relationship and learn how to manage it. Know that each day will be different. Some days there will be more screen time, other days, maybe less. A common worry about screen time is "how much is too much". When you submit to the natural flow of each day, the variations in your screen time usage will become less bothersome. Indulgence in extra screen time is guilt-free and more enjoyable when you know that you have attended to your priorities for the day.
As a responsible parent, you want to do the right thing. Try to become a part of your child's world before you attempt to drag or lure him away from screens. A good way to start is by saying, "I don't know how this app works. Could you explain it to me?" Be appreciative of his skills, "That's complex. And you've mastered it." The shared experience makes your child more receptive to new good-quality and age-appropriate programs or apps you would like to introduce to him.
Co-viewing and sharing of online experiences help start conversations about family screen time. Interactive screen time that keeps your child's brain and body active, coupled with a good deal of non-screen activities, has a positive effect on your child's behavior. Let family values such as fun, learning and respectful use of technology shape the way you use screen time. Family movie night is a popular practice. Movies often tell real-life stories. Everyone gets to express opinions, discuss the plot or a controversial point and ask questions in a safe place. These interactions give you a peek into your child's thoughts-what's important to him, how he handles emotions and where he may need guidance.
Have you noticed how much you crave for something when it's restricted or forbidden? For example, stepping out during the lockdown. Somehow, the value of it seems to skyrocket when it's forbidden. As for children, part of the attraction comes from breaking a rule! Give screen time wholeheartedly. Saying with a smile "Oh yes, you can have some screen time now. Have fun!" is a far more genuine gesture than saying with a frown, "Okay. But I am watching the clock."
Older children are on screens for several reasons. An hour of screen time a day to accommodate project work, games, interacting with friends, pursuing hobbies and learning new skills does seem unfair. "Let's see how much screen time you will need for all your activities." Open discussions help them arrive at a fair amount of time-a useful way to help children learn how to budget their time. Your empathy and understanding come through when you acknowledge their need for a reasonable amount of screen time.
How often have you snatched a gadget from your child's hands simply because you were concerned about her screen time? Try to recall the effect it has had on your child. Most likely she would have sulked; thrown a tantrum; refused to follow an instruction. In her mind, it was the only way she knew to wrest power from you. She may have been at an exciting point in the story. Instead, you could allow a few extra moments, "Take a minute more to watch the end of the race. Then we can all sit down to eat."
Become a part of your child's screen world before you try to lure him away from it. You will learn a lot from what your child watches on screens. Be gently curious about what interests and excites him. "I've never seen anything like that. Tell me more about it." Such gestures let him see how caring you are, how much you value and love him. These positive experiences make your child feel good about himself, boost his self-image. He is intrinsically motivated to reciprocate with cooperation and helpfulness.
Remember the times when you were so immersed in reading a book or watching a movie? And you had to drag yourself away to do a mundane task like doing the laundry or the dishes? That's exactly how your child feels when you say it's time to turn off the screen. Help your child transit away from a screen by inviting him to something he loves to do-"Your favorite snack is ready" or "We are all going out to play." Or say "Look what's sitting there waiting to play with you", as you point to a toy that never fails to bring a grin back on his face.
Think of all the times when you were glued to a screen. You just decided for yourself, didn't you? That's fine, because you had made peace with yourself about it. How about a bit of leeway for your child to do the same? Accept that the video your child is watching-or the game she is playing-is important to her, even though it may seem otherwise to you. She could be in the middle of something very interesting. Watch along with her for a couple of seconds, and acknowledge what she is enjoying, "Oh, that's so interesting." Within a few moments she is most likely to switch it off herself. Because the autonomy helps her gain control over what she can do for herself. Your child too wants to make peace with you!
Here's something that's irresistible for your young child. Transform yourself into the main character in the program she has been viewing. Watch her instantly pull back into the real world as she engages with you or a sibling in imaginative play, far more engaging than the screen. The fantasy plots, dialogues, emotions and actions are enacted with real people. So much fun and so real.
What your child consumes during screen time is far more important than the amount of time he spends on screens. Extra screen time might cause you to worry about the programs he watches or the games he plays, and with whom he plays. You could use a few filters to decide on what content is good for your child.
Does the content:
Have you ever observed what children do while immersed in playing video games? They know exactly where they are heading, what they want to achieve. Driven by challenge and unlimited effort, they don't give up when they get stuck. They display phenomenal focus and attention, keeping all distractions at bay. And they refocus instantly after a disturbance intrudes their flow. They are least deterred by the numerous mistakes they make, learning to problem-solve as they go along. How smoothly they adapt to changing scenarios and circumstances. Expressing uninhibited emotions, they intuitively take breaks to revive their energies. Emotional regulation in action. When playing a team video game, it's quite fascinating to see how they support each other, ask for help, solve problems together, learn strategies from each other, offer solutions, show empathy when a teammate has a setback, encourage each other to take calculated risks, have endless fun and enjoy the whole experience. These children are unconsciously preparing themselves for the future-learning and practicing very valuable life skills that will set them up for success.
There's a lot of information available about the downside of screen time, with the intent to keep us aware, alert and responsive. But nothing beats what you know best about your child. So, while you absorb all the information, don't let fear rule your decisions. Keeping your child's temperament in mind, use the information wisely. No more policing, monitoring, or controlling. Just plain good mentoring.
You could find yourself in a bit of a dilemma. And that's really okay. To make it easier for yourself, try hard to focus on the many benefits of screen time for your child-learning, fun and staying connected with friends. Use the checklist above to help your child stay on track. Think about how much more peaceful it would be with fewer screen-time battles, and how much happier it would make your child feel. A generous sprinkling of give and take will strengthen the family bonds. Sounds good? Go ahead, give making peace with screen time a try!
About the expert:
Written by Arundhati Swamy on 29 October 2020.
Arundhati Swamy is a Family and School Counsellor, a parenting expert and former President of Chennai Counsellor's Foundation.
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