Children are doing a lot with technological devices these days. It’s pretty amazing that by around three years of age, your kids can confidently navigate various apps and even social media. This is great to see; however, these evolutions in our kids are causing problems that we need to address.
Because of the demand on our time as parents, we have turned to television, mobile phones, and iPads to keep our kids engaged as we try to check off all the activities on our to-do list. The excessive exposure to screens gets our kids hooked and they give up many of the off-screen activities that are vital to them growing into balanced individuals in the future. There is also the threat to their safety, from online predators.
It is a widespread problem in our world and needs sufficient and serious attention on our part so that we can ensure the healthy physical, mental, and emotional development of our kids.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following:
- No screen time at all for children under two (except for video calls)
- One hour or less per day for children two to 12
- Two hours per day for teens and adults
In this article we will look at the downsides of excessive screen time among children, tips on reducing screen time, and activities to engage your kids in lieu of digital devices.
Why excessive screen time is detrimental for kids
There are various downsides of over exposure of kids to screens. These range from health to social implications. Let’s understand some of these:
1. Unhealthy eating
When your child is too focused on whatever device they have access to, they forget that they need to eat. It gets worse when they binge on junk food as they watch their favourite shows or movies. Because they don’t interrupt your work, you too may forget to check on whether they have had their meals or if they are hungry. Such poor eating habits often lead to deficiency in vital micro-nutrients necessary for their healthy development in body and mind.
2. Damage to eyes
Because children stay glued to the screen for long hours at a stretch, the blue light from the digital device may cause retinal damage. It has been proven that excessive exposure to the rays of light [blue light] from screens can damage light-sensitive cells in the inner lining at the back of the eyes. This can cause early macular degeneration as kids grow older, leading to poor eyesight and other eye-related complications.
3. Inadequate exercise
Studies show that from 0 to 21 years of age, we engage in physical activities for 60 – 90 minutes every day. When children are allowed to play around and run about, they exercise their bodies, which helps them develop appropriately. But when they have unmitigated screen time, they no longer move about as much. It is hardly surprising then that the rates of childhood obesity have been steadily on a rise.
4. Susceptibility to adult ailments
Obesity, hypertension, hyperacidity, and many ailments that were formerly associated only to adults are now prevalent among children too — mainly because of less than desirable physical activity and poor nutrition.
5. Social Awkwardness
Kids who are glued to the screen for long hours daily miss out on developing important social skills. These kids tend to have poor communication skills and often lack socially appropriate behaviour. If you allow your kids to spend too much time on screens, they will not be able to understand subtle aspects of social interactions. Also, if they are permitted to spend more time on screens than on actual human interactions, your kids might become oversensitive or hypervigilant. Other signs of social awkwardness you might notice in your kids are overreaction to things that do not seem to bother others and indulging in behaviours that seem inappropriate.
4 tips to reduce your children’s screen time
When you realise that your kids have become addicted to the screen in an unhealthy manner, you need to take firm action to mitigate the problem. The following are tips on easing your kids into less screen time.
1. Be sensitive
Imagine that your phone goes off while trying to beat your high score, and you have no power source on hand to charge it. Do you feel like everything that matters to you has faded into oblivion? You bet! Then why would it be any different for our kids? They feel terrible when you out take away all their devices without warning. You ought to be sensitive and Resist the temptation to go cold turkey; instead, ease them into less screen time gradually.
2. Set achievable limits
If they are old enough, talk to them about the harmful effects of excess screen time. That may help to sensitise them towards this issue and probably self-regulate their screen time. Sit with your kids and mutually agree on time limits for screen time, include the phone, TV and laptop. Set realistic goals. Give them the new time frame and be firm about it. Incentives will go a long way to help them achieve this goal.
3. Introduce new activities
Kids have to be engaged one way or another, so you need to initiate new ways to keep them occupied since you are taking away some of their screen time. Besides spending more time with them, you could enroll them in art or music classes or help them learn a new sport or cultivate a new hobby.
4. Create device-free zones and activities
Some parts of the home can be designated as device-free zones. Likewise, you could make your bedtime routines and meal times device-free. This should be applicable to everyone in the family, you included. Such “rules” help instill the importance of family time in your children. They also learn the value of mindfulness while eating, preparing to sleep and so on.
Activities that can help replace your kid’s screen time
1. Family time
Spending time with your kids is an important and effective way to reduce their screen time. As parents, we must show our kids that we love them by participating in their playtime, having conversations, and asking them questions so that we can know their view of the world and how their mind works. And yes, keep your phone away when you are spending time with them — children learn most by imitating their loved ones.
2. Colouring books
These are stress relievers for all ages. Various book stores and websites offer cheap materials for all ages. There are various designs with different themes such as plants, animals, Indian mythology, Easter and Christmas, superhero characters, Disney princesses, and so on.
Origami is a creative form of art where you create different things by folding paper in simple or complex patterns. Children love creative pursuits — and if you join them, the fun quotient multiplies for them.
Replace the screen with a book. If you don’t already do it, it’s time you start to read with and to your kids. You can take them to book clubs where they can learn to read and interact with other kids and get exposed to the wonderful world of books.
Other activities include play dates with their friends, gardening, painting, baking, playing games like monopoly or scrabble, etc.
As a parent, it’s your job to ensure that your children have a balanced life. Be intentional about their diet, be it food or digital content. And yes, keep your devices aside when interacting with them. Best-selling author Robert Fulghum said, “Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.” So if your child watches you glued to your phone or laptop always, they will assume it’s the natural thing to do. But if your child finds that you are often engaged in different off-screen activities like reading, painting, gardening or anything else that interests you, they will emulate you and this way you can lead by example.
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