It’s never too late to revisit and limit screen time for both parents and children.
Children are a powerhouse of energy, and their curious mind constantly seeks stimulation. Many parents struggling with occupational or social stress can sometimes take children being engrossed in digital devices as an opportunity to take a break or breather.
Excessive screen time poses two types of health risks for children and adolescents: physical and psychological. Increased screen time reduces the time spent doing physical activity, affecting the sleep cycle.
Prolonged screen viewing can cause dry and itchy eyes, blurry vision, and headaches. Watching or reading on screen at close distances also increases the risk of developing myopia.
Secondly, excessive use of digital devices for gaming, accessing social media, and watching online streaming services can be associated with behavioral addictions such as gaming disorder or attention deficit disorder.
Chances are that most children have already developed a habit of prolonged screen time due to the the COVID-19 pandemic. Many parents might also be spending excessive time using digital devices or are just too exhausted to argue with their children about limiting screen time. It is never too late though to revisit our habits for a healthier outlook and behavior.
Here are some handy tips to help both parents and children stay healthy while navigating this phase of high dependence on screens and devices:
1. Don’t just ask, DO!
If there was ever a moment for you to model the behavior you expect of your children, this is it. If you take your laptop to bed with you, or have your mobile phone beside you at meal times, your children will think your requests of them in this regard are, quite frankly, hypocritical. It’s vital that you use your devices wisely if you expect them to use theirs that way, so be sure to put your phone down (and on silent mode) at meals, and insist they do it as well.
2. Focus on the content more than duration.
Parents should notice what children are doing on devices, the content they encounter, and their online support networks, rather than limiting their access rigidly. Emphasize using digital tools for building connection and creativity.
3. Schedule dedicated playtime with children.
Children crave attention, and playtime promotes their cognitive, language and social skills. It is also beneficial for the well-being of the parents.
4. No screens for at least two hours prior to bedtime.
All the latest research supports this, because being on screens before bed interferes with sleep quality. Don’t take your phone into your bedroom either, or your laptop, and your children will be more willing to part with theirs. Remember: set a good examp
5. Encourage phone calls with friends.
During these stressful times, children need to play and communicate with friends. Video games and social media can offer connectedness in a time where social interaction is reduced, but phone calls offer a break from staring at the screen.
6. Pursue hobbies and build skills.
There are lots of exciting activities online that can keep children active offline. Both parents and children need to find ways to remain active when work, learning, socializing, and play are confined to the screen.
7. Make devices harder to grab.
Designate a place for electronic devices at some distance, so it gets hard to reach them immediately when getting bored. Instead, keep non-screen items like newspapers, puzzles, comic books, board games, stress balls etc. very accessible.
8. It’s good to get bored sometimes.
When children are required to find their own solutions to boredom, it becomes a chance for them to develop their imagination. Children do not require constant entertainment; in fact, it can be detrimental to their development.
9. Above all set reasonable limits.
Parents need to set limits on screen time, but they don’t need to be rigid or extreme to be effective.
10. Depending on their age, keep their computer use limited to common areas.
We know many experts who believe that children younger than 12 should not be allowed on a computer by themselves. You need not hover when they are using it; we aren’t suggesting that. But unless they are doing something they want to hide, they should be okay with using the laptop at, for example, the kitchen table when you or your nanny are preparing dinner.
It is OK if screen time gets stretched on some days. Children or teenagers can help plan their routine – like making their school timetable. Children will follow it better if they help to make it. Thinking about everyone’s needs and stress levels, especially your own, can help you set realistic limits that can work in practice.
As parents ourselves, we know what children always need: love, attention, support and their parents’ engagement with them. Digital technology hasn’t changed that. Used wisely, it can be a terrific adjunct to learning and socialization. Used poorly, and your child can become addicted. Be aware, be firm, but most of all, be involved in their digital lives.
Screen time and children
reference credit UNICEF INDIA