Screen-time: Science backed ways to reduce it
The first android smartphones appeared in the Indian market in 2008. Laptops started becoming affordable to sections of the Indian population. TV started reaching all parts of the country with DTH becoming the go-to method of broadcasting. Broadband started at push notifications and has come to 4G and heading to 5G. Engineering became the go-to qualification and a job with "computers" became a coveted profession. Somewhere along the way, we got obsessed with our screens.
We flit from one screen to another, our voracious appetite for content and "social" interaction never ceasing. When the next generation appeared, we revelled in theirs being the smartest generation till date. We still revel in the ability of a 2 year old adroitly navigating interactions with screens (phone/laptop/tv/technology), stuff we learnt when we were teenagers. For a while, it was OK. There was not much science clearly refuting it or supporting it, we did not know any better.
The verdict is out now, the science says that screen time below 2 years of age is detrimental and the screen time over two years can have positive outcomes in learning, but that negative outcomes like lack of social behaviour and obesity outweigh the benefits.
Does this mean you have committed a grave sin? A big fat NO. The good news is that the negative effects can actually be reversed. Researchers at UCLA found that the students who went tech-free and to an outdoor education camp for five days scored significantly higher when it came to reading facial emotions or other nonverbal cues than the students in the control group who continued to have access to their media devices.
We belong to three categories of parents, parents who believe screen time is a necessity to navigate this increasingly tech-enabled world, parents who believe in minimal to no screen time but unable to enforce it because of external circumstances, and parents who believe in minimal to no screen time but occasionally give into the rare Peppa Pig treat. If you belong to the latter two categories and wish for your child's exposure to screens to go down, this is possible. We at the nestery believe in bringing down screen time to nil or to a bare minimum, because parent's sanity matters more. Hey, happy parents = happy babies
Here are some science backed direct and indirect ways to taper-off or wean your child (heck, even adults) off screen-time:
More play, more movement: Go ahead, encourage your children to play more and play independently. Allow them to create games out of nothing. Say "NO" lesser. A great impediment to free play is the word "NO". Physical movement fights depression, poor focus, insomnia, addiction, and anxiety by raising and balancing the very brain chemicals and hormones that become imbalanced from using electronic devices. Free play encourages brain integration, mastering of new skills, grasping others’ mental states, cause-and-effect thinking, and managing conflict.
Engage their creative side: Creative play and activities engage the right brain. Information is processed using the left brain. In our information overload world, our right brains are under-utilized. But, using the right brain activates areas throughout the entire brain (left and right), facilitating whole-brain and brain-body integration. Screen-time is a direct impediment to imaginary/creative play. This is because, when the brain is fed a constant stream of stimulating entertainment that saturates the senses, it deadens the creative drive. In contrast, reduced levels of stimulation enhance creativity, and varying depth of field and the interplay of depth and shadow found in the natural world stimulate the mind to wonder and imagine.
The physical touch: It is established in research that children who are held more, rocked more, soothed more by a parent or caregiver have larger brains and develop healthy attachments. Eye contact, touch, in-person interaction, touch, and observing body language helps children learn to regulate their emotions and develop a sense of self. A healthy attachment to caregivers actually protects against addictions of all kinds, including tech addiction. So, as if we needed any more reasons to go and squish our little ones. Hug them more, more often. Make meaningful eye contact every day.
No screens in the bedroom: Studies show that, especially screen-time in the evenings disrupt sleep. It leads to suppressed REM, less time spent in the deeper stages of sleep, and a sudden drop in core body temperature. The kind of sleep that the human body needs is restorative sleep, it is reparative in nature. It helps the brain repair itself, reduces inflammation, and helps consolidate learning. Research suggests that parent-set bedtimes are associated with better sleep and improved functioning. So, keep set "go-to-sleep" times and wake-up times, start darkening the house about an hour before bedtime, use blackout curtains in the room, have a strict no-screen policy in the bedroom (adults included). Make the room cozy and inviting to sleep.
Exposure to the outdoors, nature and the sunlight: Research suggests that green spaces improve mental health and learning potential both immediately and over time, by lowering stress levels and restoring attention. Greenery creates a state of “calm alertness”, which is ideal for learning. In contrast, screen activities are associated with stress-based alertness, which depletes attention. Go out on treks, collect stones, sticks, pine cones, create sandcastles, jump in muddy puddles. At the bare minimum, take your child outdoors for a minimum of 1-2 hours every day. So many alternatives to the screen, if we only look.
Practical life skills/Daily chores: Potato, Potaaahto. Go figure. It is only common logic that children who engage in chores early on in their life make life long habits and are more self-sufficient. This is just not us saying it. Research backs us up too. One study showed that kids with the highest GPA’s did more chores, had less than 30 minutes of daily screen-time, and spent more time with their parents. Another study showed that children who started doing chores at age 3 or 4 were more likely to have successful relationships and careers and were more self-sufficient. Toddlers crave to be independent and performing a chore gives them that opportunity and the confidence that they can do it themselves and that, someone trusts them with it. Some examples of chores could be picking up toys and books and putting it back in its place. Putting dishes in the sink, setting the table, setting the pillows and blankets on the bed, keeping water bottles in set locations around the house, watering plants, placing shoes on the shoe rack, put laundry in the basket, help with putting washed clothes on the line, loading the washing machine, use a wet wipe cloth to wipe spills, categorizing washed clothes into "mom pile", "dad pile" and "baby pile", helping washing vegetables, fruits in the kitchen, helping in food prep like whisking, tearing etc. keep out dustbins for collection, counting clothes to be given to the press wala/i, pet care if you have pets.
Adults, put down that phone and switch off that TV blaring in the background that nobody is watching: Monkey see, monkey do. Children model their behaviour after you. If they see you elbow deep in your phone or you watching TV or working on a laptop and ignoring them and their simple conversations with you or if they see you fill every empty slot of time with a screen, they WILL want to do the same. A recent study found that high parental screen use is associated with more behavioural in children. This finding concurs with what we already know about child development, that emotional resonance, eye contact, and in-person interaction with a parent helps regulate a child’s nervous system. In addition to all these benefits, you will be more present and your children will feel less ignored even in your presence. What is a tantrum, but a call for attention? Some ways for adults to fix our relationships with screens. Create screen-free zones in the house, eat one meal at least together with no distractions, no- using phones or TV before going to sleep. Use timer apps for social media to limit social media usage.
Go old school, Say no to wire-free: Everything is becoming or has already become wireless or wirefree. Pledge to use devices only when connected to mother cords. For instance, move to a LAN connection over a wi-fi. This automatically limits the number of devices connected and location of devices. Use phones only when attached to the charging dock. You get the drift. This is a small but very effective hack to reducing screen time. This will automatically reduce access to screen time for children as well as children love moving around and not sitting in one place.
Select care-givers who have a no-screen policy: A lot of us in India have nannies or the children go to day care. A really easy way to stop the child from watching a screen is by ensuring that the day care has a no-screen policy that is strictly enforced. Any nanny you hire should agree to not using the phone during working hours unless to attend an incoming call. This is a great way to avoid screen time.
Avoid distraction feeding: In short, neither is this needed nor advised. Children self-regulate intake of food. Showing screens during mealtimes makes them unaware of the quantity they eat. This gives the parent a false assurance that the child eats more while watching the screen. This is a difficult hack for most parents but the payoffs are immense.
All of this may sound overwhelming, pressuring and full of privilege to parents who are struggling with their everyday journey. Draw the line where it feels comfortable to you. These are just guidelines to educate you and help you on your journey.
Should we do a FB live or an Insta live on this topic, especially from an Indian perspective? Hit us with some comments on what you do at home too.
- Retrieved from NPR: https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2014/08/28/343735856/kids-and-screen-time-what-does-the-research-say
- Brandon T. McDaniel and Jenny S. Radesky, “Technoference: Parent Distraction with Technology and Associations with Child Behavior Problems,” Child Development, May 10, 2017.
- Christian Cajochen et al., “Evening Exposure to a Light-Emitting Diodes (Led)-Backlit Computer Screen Affects Circadian Physiology and Cognitive Performance,” Journal of Applied Physiology (Bethesda, Md.: 1985) 110, no. 5 (May 2011): 1432–38.
- Victoria Dunkely. 10 Ways to Protect the Brain from Daily Screen Time. Retrieved from Psychology today website
- Stephen Kaplan, “The Restorative Benefits of Nature: Toward an Integrative Framework,” Journal of Environmental Psychology 15, no. 3 (1995): 169–182.
- Rick Nauert, “Does Sunlight & Climate Influence Prevalence of ADHD?” Psych Central, October 22, 2013
- Robert M. Pressman et al., “Examining the Interface of Family and Personal Traits, Media, and Academic Imperatives Using the Learning Habit Study,” The American Journal of Family Therapy 42, no. 5 (October 20, 2014): 347–63.
- Michelle A Short et al., “Time for Bed: Parent-Set Bedtimes Associated with Improved Sleep and Daytime Functioning in Adolescents,” Sleep 34, no. 6 (June 2011): 797–800.
- B. Wallace (2015). Why Children Need Chores. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from: http://www.wsj.com/articles/why-children-need-chores-1426262655