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Thursday, October 21, 2021

Ways to replace screen time for children

Despite the fact that we might be proud of our child quickly grasping their command over technology or learning rhymes through YouTube, screen time for kids, beyond school, must be minimised and discouraged

New Delhi |
September 25, 2021 4:29:17 pm
Children are spending long hours on the computer owing to the pandemic. (Source: Screen Time/ Unsplash)Children are spending long hours on the computer owing to the pandemic. (Source:Unsplash)

By Sonya Philip

Today, many parents are struggling to curtail screen time and find alternate ways to engage their children. For many, the struggle is being able to coax their children to disengage from the screen.

Now that online schooling has brought screens into the home, the magnet of online games and recreation seems to be consuming the hours of most children.

Ironically, for parents the screen is an easy tool at their disposal that offers them moments of respite, but the addiction to screens by young children is not what most had bargained for. Most parents and caretakers are aware that children shouldn’t be given easy access to technology at such a young age. Yet, we are all guilty of doing so because we need to multitask, we are tired, and because children simply love it. It’s surprising to see that two-year-olds today can operate a smartphone probably better than I can.

Yet, despite how easy it might be to hand that gadget to your child, I’ll state the obvious – screen time for children isn’t right at all. Research from the Indian Academy of Pediatrics points out that children below the age of two years should not be exposed to any type of screen with the exception of occasional video calls with relatives. For children between the age of two and five years, screen time should not exceed one hour, though the lesser, the better. For ages higher than five, screen time should never come at the cost of any other activity crucial for development such as physical activity, sleep, school work, eating etc.

Further, increased time on phones and tablets also means less time spent with others. This comes at the cost of slowing down and hindering the development of language skills, social and interpersonal skills that develop the much needed ability to feel compassion and empathy.

Sadly, it can also cause isolation at a young age, leading to issues like increased anxiety and even depression in the future.

Hence, despite the fact that we might be proud of our child quickly grasping their command over technology or learning rhymes through YouTube, screen time for kids, beyond school, must be minimised and discouraged.

Prior to the technological age, children enjoyed childhood in the true sense of the word. A childhood that had them use their imagination to create games, find friends to play with and be in touch with the outdoors – all tools necessary to sculpt children into wholesome, confident and social beings with a real sense of their world.

While we have identified the problem, I would like to focus on some possible alternatives to engage our children.

Start with old-fashioned play

Children today are barely just allowed to be. Unstructured, free play time is needed by children. Give your child the opportunity to think and figure out playing on their own or with friends.

Adults can provide children open-ended materials (cardboard boxes, empty bottles, collections from nature, etc.). However, avoid telling them what to do with it. Let them deploy their thinking, creativity and imagination to figure out how they want to use the materials.

Children are natural scientists and will get busy exploring possibilities. It is important for adults to not cast their shadow over children.

Have art materials like crayons, paints, glue, different kinds of papers available. Do not ask them to make a finished product of your choice instead encourage them to explore and create whatever they wish to.

An open-ended approach will encourage your child to think, give them ownership and confidence in their abilities- all essential skills for life! I encourage board games, puzzles, and specific research projects based on a child’s interest for older children. I am witness to the success of this approach with my own grandchildren.

Be a role model

Today, when parents and children are spending more time at home as a result of the pandemic, children are increasingly looking up to parents. Children emulate what they see and not what we ask them to do.

Hence, it is crucial that they see that you’re not spending all your free time on a screen. Parents can also set aside an hour or more, which is fully dedicated to the child and free of any gadgets. This can be the same every day as children enjoy predictability. Have a ritual of reading to your child, listening and dancing to music, cooking together, playing a game etc.

Spend time outdoors

Children will usually follow what you give preference to. Make daily outdoor time part of your routine. Simple games with a ball, riding a bicycle, climbing rocks, planning a picnic will make outdoors a fun family time.

You can set up a playdate with your child’s best friend or introduce them to a new park or new sport. Or if the child is old enough, this can be their independent time with friends. Knowing that they get to choose how to use their time outdoors can boost their confidence, enhance social skills and help them take responsibility.

Inculcate a reading or storytelling habit

Children benefit a great deal from books. Help your child pick books that are of interest to him/her. Make daily time for reading. Reading to your child is the single most beneficial thing you can do as a parent. Read for the sheer joy and pleasure of the story. This will encourage your child to become a life-long reader.

Reading together is a positive bonding activity that helps in building language, imagination and increasing understanding of various concepts and emotions.

Children may choose to and young children often naturally enact scenes from a story. You can help them understand the emotion behind a character’s role or have them share their thoughts on how the story could end etc. Storytelling is not only a remarkable substitute for screen time but also has far many advantages and the emotional aspect of memories for a lifetime.

Help cultivate a hobby

Like us, children will also gravitate towards a phone when they feel bored. Help them fill this time with a hobby they enjoy. It could be a creative hobby like dancing, singing, learning an instrument of their choice or learning a new skill of embroidery, cooking, art etc. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an organised activity and can be one at home or their friend’s home so they can look forward to it.

Let children be the ones to decide the hobby and allow them the time and space to figure out what they like. This way they won’t feel forced to do something.

In conclusion, there are several ways to engage young children as they are inherently curious, capable and strong. Parents and caretakers should be willing to set aside the time and effort required to encourage children to pursue alternative forms of entertainment besides gadgets.

Further, as parents, we must give our children the freedom to explore ways to keep themselves busy as our parents would and let them engage in old-fashioned, unstructured free play.

It is essential that children spend time away from screens since time away from technology can do wonders for a child’s social, emotional and cognitive development.

(The writer is the founder of Learning Matters, an early childhood education organisation by Max Learning Ventures.)

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