By Tanya Percy Vasunia
One of the key challenges today is parenting alongside technology. What was once a luxury is now a basic necessity of everyday life, be it a mobile phone, tablet, computer or TV. Our lives are integrated with these technologies and children born in the age of technology cannot imagine life without it. Every week there is a new innovation or trend that crops up, and a parent’s job now involves being on top of these.
Addiction to ‘the screen’ has become a key area of research in the field of social psychology. There are many studies which associate screen time with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (Yen et.al 2009). Other studies have linked excessive screen time with depression and loneliness (Ayas & Horzum, 2013). Seeing how pervasive screens are in a child’s life, it is no wonder that parents are worried about the effect it can have on their children.
It is essential to keep in mind the age of your child when setting boundaries around screen use. For children below the age of 10, adopting clearly defined and consistent boundaries is recommended. As with any behaviour or habit, early intervention provides the best outcomes; therefore, implementing designated times for screen use with a limited amount of weekly access is an effective strategy to prevent an unhealthy dependence or addiction.
10 to 13-year-olds
If your child falls in the 10 to 13 years age range, the strategy changes. While implementation of limited screen use is a necessity, there are other techniques to assist you. Having a conversation (not a lecture!) with your child about the content they view can result in some positive outcomes. For one, this can prevent them from getting completely absorbed by what they’re watching, and for another it can also help build parent-child rapport and help you in better monitoring the content, too.
Another useful strategy to limit the number of personal devices available, instead of providing the child with a laptop, phone and iPad, is keeping a general desktop at home. This is helpful in reducing the temptation to spend more time on screens. Implementing rules that apply to everyone in the family is also a useful way to limit screen time. For example, no phones at the dinner table or no taking phone calls post 9 pm. If such rules are followed by the adults, the children will (reluctantly) fall in line.
If you are a parent of a teenager, your gameplan to reduce screen time is going to require a team effort, as well as a strong defence. It is important to set reasonable boundaries and allow your teen the opportunity to earn more screen time by doing chores, getting good grades or taking on responsibility. If you are a parent that struggles with implementing such boundaries then you might want to fight fire with fire, and parent control apps might be your way forward. These apps allow you to track your child’s use of their devices, to switch off applications after a certain time, and most importantly, provide you with hard proof about the time your teenager is spending staring at a screen. Some tried and tested parent technology control apps include Boomerang Parental Control and Qustodio Parental Control.
The way forward
An important note to be made here is that while concerns of addiction and dependency on technology are extremely valid, parents often find it difficult to communicate their fears to their young ones. Often, while trying to reason with the child, parents make arguments that sound arbitrary to the children: “You will get glasses; you will fail your test”. What might be more helpful is communicating real fears: “I feel like we don’t speak anymore and this makes me feel less close to you; I am worried that this device will take over your life.” We find that it is communicating the truth that allows children to see our vulnerability and give them the opportunity to respond with empathy.
(The writer is Psychologist & Case Coordinator, Mpower-The Centre, Mumbai.)