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ParenTalk: Screen time- Yay, Nay and How Much?

ParenTalk: Screen time- Yay, Nay and How Much?

As we complete the second year of COVID lockdown, caregivers working at home, with schools shut and family stowed away in hometowns, often had no option but to summon the powers of the ultimate babysitter: Screen time.

Research has proven the link between high screen time and many behavioral and health issues like irritability, negative mood, poor cognitive and socioemotional development, obesity, inadequate sleep and unhealthy eating habits. This has become a growing concern for parents, educationists and healthcare professionals world over. But on the other hand, being ‘ digital natives’ children of today are also smarter users of technology and adept to enhance learning and simplify day-to-day tasks as they grow older.

So what must be the course of action - complete restraint on screen time or encouraging meaningful and healthy engagement with technology? Let’s get to know the global guidelines and some do’s and don’ts of digital exposure for children.

 

Guidelines and recommendations on screen time and digital exposure for children

As per the guidelines on physical activity, sedentary behavior and sleep for children under 5 years of age designed by WHO panel of experts, screen time should be limited to watching educational programming with a caregiver between 18 and 24 months. For children 2-5, limit non-educational screen time to about 1 hour per weekday and 3 hours on the weekend days. For ages 6 and older, encourage healthy habits and limit activities that include screens.

As per the Indian Academy of Pediatrics, for children <2 years, social interaction is required for healthy brain development. Use of digital devices in this age group can result in delayed speech, hyperactivity, and poor social skills. Hence, screens should be avoided for children in this age group or moderate digital exposure consisting of music, movement and stories can be included with other physical activities with caregivers as per of weekly routine. 

Screen time for children between the age of 2 and 5 years should not exceed 1 hour; the lesser, the better. For older children and adolescents, it is important to balance screen time with other activities that are required for overall development. These activities include an hour of physical activity (play time), adequate duration of sleep (recommended sleep time varies with age, for example, adolescents require 8–9 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night), and time for schoolwork, meals, hobbies, and family time. If any of these activities is displaced due to screen use, then it is called excessive screen time and must be supervised and cut-down. 


Read also: Science backed ways to reduce screen time

 

Passive Screen Time vs Interactive Active Screen Time

Screen based activities or receiving digital information, which could be unrequired and repetitive in nature and replaces active play, learning and problem solving among children is not only non-productive but can lead to many physical and mental disorders like obesity, Irregular sleep schedules and shorter duration of sleep, poor cognitive development and irritability etc.

However, there are ways to make children positively engage with the screens and reap benefits from meaningful engagement. Co-viewing or digitally co-playing age appropriate games, entertainment, information based programmed and educative or skill based apps can be included in daily routine of children above the age group of 5 years as it promotes parent/peer bonding and recreational time. 

 

Social media:

Social media platforms such as YouTube or blogging are new age channels of showcasing talent. Caregivers must encourage use of such mediums if the children wish to share their gifted abilities socially. Caregivers must encourage content creation by children in the fields of digital art, theatre, storytelling or music creation. But there must be a monitor on the kind of content being consumed, as there can be social media challenges that can be incredibly harmful to children.

Devices like kindle device promotes good habits of reading and improving communications with the ease of carrying a variety of e-books on subjects of interest.  

 

How to ensure quality screen time ? 

Caregivers can adopt these tips to ensure quality screen time for their children.

  • Supervised content, games and apps can avoid exposure of inappropriate digital material and accompanied screen time gives ample opportunity to learn and engage productively with children. 
  • Help your children select age appropriate and interactive digital options rather than sedentary screen time on platforms that require senseless viewing swiping and scrolling screen. 
  • Use parental controls to block or filter internet content.
  • Keep a tab on the kind of shows, games or apps your child is using regularly. 
  • Avoid fast-paced programming, which may not be understood by young children. Also do not allow viewing apps with a lot of distracting content, and violent media. 
  • Speak to your child openly. Do not sneakily monitor. Help them understand the issues with unsupervised screen time, and to ALWAYS come to you if anyone messages them.

 

Screen time and your child’s safety and online etiquettes 

In an increasingly immersive digital environment it is not feasible for caregivers to completely avoid any kind of screen time exposure to their children. Excessive restraints and controls may lead to display of disobedience, concealment and even depressive behaviors. The modern day global teen lingo- FOMO (fear of missing out ) or FOBLO ( fear of being left out) are real life social challenges faced by young children and adolescents which could adversely affect their mental health.  

Thus it becomes vital to strike a balance between appropriate screen time for children and parental guidance in the matter. Communication holds the key to make children understand the importance of responsible and healthy screen time. By supervising and using filters and controls on devices and certain sites you can avoid children landing on pornographic sites and viewing inappropriate graphic content. 

Children nowadays develop social relationships over the internet which may expose them to strangers/imposters and persons who may indulge in dangerous online activities like cyber bullying, sexting, fake information etc. Caregivers must explain their children ways to deal with such situations and immediately confide when feeling threatened. Children must be strictly advised to never share personal information with anyone online and agree to meet a stranger they met on any social media platform. Teaching appropriate online behavior will not only ensure their safety but also make them responsible while interacting with others digitally. 

Setting up house rules (followed by all) like no screen time during meals or digital devices in the bedroom during sleep time and fixed duration for daily screen time allowance can help caregivers to monitor and control safe screen time for their children. 

 

Children learn best during unstructured play and activities. They develop strong social and emotional bonds interacting with peers and family in real time. Hence it is important to create digital-free zones and family/play time wherein children can interact with natural surroundings, books, art and other creative activities. Monitoring and controlling screen time will continue to remain a part of modern day parenting but if the channels of communication and trust are robust screen time can also become a healthy and constructive part of daily life. Screen time can offer a plethora of benefits when accompanied and supervised by caregivers. Children can be taught to wisely use digital devices and engage in healthy screen time. This would not only ensure responsible digital behavior by children but also offer opportunities of two-way learning and interaction between children and parents.

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