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Why less screen time for kids is a good thing and what to do about it

dangers of screen time to the young kids

Why less screen time for kids is a good thing and what to do about it

Technology is a necessary evil. With the pandemic now raging, online classes have become the norm. And unfortunately, more children are getting addicted to their screens more than ever. The same can be said for adults as well. So, what is screentime? The time spent on devices with screens is referred to as “Screen Time”. This could be mobiles, tablets, laptops, televisions, and such. We’re sure you get the drift.

Some parents believe that it is impossible to not give any screentime whatsoever to the kids, especially given that the entire world is now the technologically connected the world is now. The advent of smartphones was in the year 2008 and it is amazing that in the matter of just more than a decade, we have allowed technology to invade every aspect of our lives.

Once we are done watching our favourite television show, we flip out our smartphones to check an update on Facebook, then move over to the videogame console for a dash with the latest games in trend. Our thirst for content and interaction with other people never cease.

With parents being so attached to their devices, can we expect any less from the kids? When toddlers or preschoolers learnt to unlock our phones, or choose an app in their quest for a video they like, or operate the T.V. remote with authority, we revelled in how smart they were in comparison with the previous generation because these are things we got good at only in later years. But to the dismay of parents and caregivers alike, the experts are now cautioning about the negative effects of screen time on children. Heck, too much screen time and internet use are detrimental even for adults, so imagine the effect on children!

Nothing can beat human interaction and personal engagement.

A study claims that a third of the children under one year of age have used a tablet or a smartphone. That’s quite shocking. And even more alarmingly, many parents give smartphones to their kids to put them to sleep. It is known that late-night screen use can affect the sleep cycles of these children and they may have difficulty with getting up on time the next day and affect their entire routine the next day, be it at home or school. 

Young children need to be moving - they shouldn’t be spending hours passively sitting in front of the screens and watching videos. The pros outweigh the cons in most cases - increased screen time for toddlers may lead to some learning in terms of picking up language skills, but nothing can beat human interaction. Too much exposure to passive screentime comes with a host of negative issues such as childhood obesity, lack of interest in making friends in the real world, aggression, trouble concentration on a task at hand, and curb their curiosity and creativity that come with hands-on play. What's more, they may never learn empathy, read social cues, control their impulses and deal with boredom and their frustrations. The constant voice, video, image, and on-screen stimuli that children get from screens will wreak havoc on their attention span and focus.

It is no wonder then that the World Health Organization recommends that children under the age of 2 should get absolutely no screen time whatsoever. Yes, zero. Nada! 

Even for older kids, aged 2 to 5, the recommended screen time is just an hour every day. Yes, the less the better! 

The problem is when these screens start to replace toys and other meaningful interactions and playtime that children can have with other kids and caregivers. Whether you are a parent who feels it’s okay to give the occasional screen time or want to reduce the screen time but are unable to because of external factors, don’t beat yourself too much about it. 

As kids grow old and become increasingly difficult to look after, we give some screen time while we get a little respite, run errands or get our chores done. We can always find a middle ground to give kids a little screen time without letting it affect them while also keeping our sanity intact.

Rather than go cold-turkey or demonizing screen time as something awful, there are ways to effectively limit screen time if only you are willing to put in a little effort. We at Bumpy Rides have all the tips to limit screen time and avoid overexposure. So, let’s get to it. Forget just kids, even parents can do with some of these tips for some digital detox.

Be the change

Children take up after us, and when they see you immersed in your phone all the time, they obviously want to do it too. When you are around your toddler, ensure that you are not always on one device or the other. It would be a good idea to keep cell phones, laptops, and other gaming consoles in one particular room of the house so that children don’t have access to them. When you are having a conversation or indulging in some fun family playtime, and there is the blare of the television in the background that's drowning out everything else? Simply turn it off! 

Adults too can benefit from timer apps on social media. You may not know it in your busy schedule, but you may be spending far too much time glued to your social media accounts. In many cases, tantrums, aggression and meltdowns could be just a cry for attention, so turning off all the devices and engaging with your child can be good for both the child and the parent. 

Set Rules within the house

There are some basic ground rules you can set like not bringing in devices to mealtimes. You could have at least one meal together as a family. When going to restaurants, it may be really tempting to take out the phone and give it to your toddler. Or, at home, when the kid is going through a particularly fussy-eating phase. However, resist the urge to use screen time for distraction feeding if you want your little one to associate a positive relationship with food throughout their life.

Also, if you give in once, and refuse the next occasion, be prepared for a meltdown! You little one must know the texture of the food, feel it between his fingers, and learn to communicate when he is feeling more hungry or full - all of this will be missed when he is glued to his screen!

Adults and caregivers, ensure no screen time during late evenings or bedtime. Giving children screens during late evenings will disrupt their REM cycle and affect their sleep. We all know sleep is crucial for kids to function at their best. You need to set boundaries as to when and for how long your kid can watch screen time if any. 

Keep tabs though on the kind of content consumed and decide what is age-appropriate. Just because some random neighbour said a particular show turned out to be educational doesn’t make it so. There are websites like using which you can identify for yourself if a particular T.V show, movie, app or game is age-appropriate for your kid. 

Remember we said, just under an hour for your 2 to 5-year-old kid? Tell your little one before giving them screen time that they are supposed to watch only 5 videos (or how many can be watched in that one hour) and finish up once the time limit has passed. Be consistent and as firm as possible every time and eventually your kid will learn to be used to it. As far as the internet goes, there is no need for kids below the age of 5 to be using the internet, whether scheduled or unscheduled.

Also, when your toddler or preschooler is watching television, make it a point to sit beside them and watch the show along with them. Interact with them, make jokes about the characters, have some serious conversations as to what they are up to etc. This way, you ensure your child is not simply passively consuming the content.
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Finally, never use screen times as a reward for some good behaviour. “Eat this healthy meal, I will put on your favourite T.V show”. “Finish your homework, and you can play for 30 minutes on the videogame console.” Your kid just wants to eat healthy for the intrinsic benefits associated with healthy eating - sound body and mind; he should want to finish his homework, learn new things and progress in school; not so that he will get some screen time as a reward!

Ever give them the screen to stop a meltdown or crying episode? Then, the children will be unable to channel their emotions or even articulate what they are going through. Instead, why not saunter over to them and give them a huge hug! Yes, kids who were embraced to their heart’s content in their formative years not only went on to develop a positive relationship with their caregivers, they were also known to have better emotional self-regulation, had a better cognitive function and were less likely to be addicted to their gadgets in later years. That sounds like a win!

Encourage Play

Lack of physical exercise is bad for kids and leads to many problems in their adolescent and adult phase of life. Kids who are aged 3 to 5 need to play unrestricted for at least a couple of hours every day. This helps to ward off depression, anxiety and behaviour problems. It helps them keep their focus and builds their attention span.

This kind of free play plays a major role in child development, sharpens their creativity when they learn to think and do stuff for themselves without needing much prompting, learn conflict management, sharpens their negotiation skills and keeps them grounded and balanced. And what's more, it helps strengthen the parent-child bond! So, don’t hesitate to bring out the inner child in you by taking their lead and playing with them.

There is no doubt that screen time curbs kid’s creativity and imagination. Heavy exposure to digital screens gives them all the stimulation they need and more. Just take it away, and you will see their creative juices flowing. Those few chairs and a mattress can be a tent, that little nook in the corner can be their balloon shop where they sell balloons, sticks become tools with which to repair their cars or stuff around the house - the options are endless!

Go outside

Kids need to spend some quality time in nature. If you have a garden at home, all the better. Encourage your child’s green thumb by planting a tree together, watering the plants every day, and taking care of said plants. Kids cooped for long hours at home or school, could do with spending at least a couple of hours every day. 

Encourage them to build sandcastles, take a dip in the stream, watch the sunsets together, go on hikes and introduce to them the local birds and animals, draw animals, birds, cars and more using sticks, paint on the pebbles, and taking a cue from Peppa pig, jump on muddy puddles.

Practical life skills

Involving kids in everyday activities is a great way to set them up to be independent and self-sufficient later on in life. Wouldn’t it be nice to have your little one following you around and lending you a helping hand every day! 

You could ask your preschooler to do little chores around the house like watering the plants, setting the dishes on the table before a meal (provided its not something runny like rasam!), put the empty cups back into the washbasin, put the toys away after play, hand out the laundry to be loaded into the washing machine, put the washed clothes on the clothesline, keep the clothes back in “Mommy, Daddy and Baby’s” space in the wardrobe, handing out the token to buy milk to the milk wala, putting their shoes and sandals in their proper place when they get back home from school or play. Just watch the smile on the little one’s face when they accomplish a task! Their confidence will increase manifold.

So, there you have it. All of this may appear a little tough, and while you may not be able to implement all of it, the benefits that come with cutting back a kid's screen time are high.

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