With the proliferation of a variety of electronic gadgets (connected to the internet)—smartphone, laptop, tablet–at homes, most of the kids nowadays are exposed to the screen contents of the gadgets. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the time children… spend in front of screens is rising alarmingly to around seven hours per day and urged the parents to cut down the time to one hour per day for children under five years of age, and for children above five years, the time could be extended to a maximum of two hours per day. The time kids spend watching screen content is called as the Screen Time, which entails a mixture of positive as well as negative implications for the kids.
Studies have shown that excessive exposure of kids to the electronic screens can lead to attention problems, learning difficulties, sleep as well as eating disorders and obesity apart from illicit and risky behaviors arising out of usage of internet-connected smartphones, displaying inappropriate content on the screens. We list below a few of the negative implications:
· Kids are likely to come across inappropriate content that might vitiate their minds.
· Excessive usage of social media could make your kid feel lonely as it eliminates the need for calling a friend or meeting someone in person. The kids thus fail to experience positive emotions and the feeling of closeness by being with family members and friends. Moreover, constant exposure to social media enhances the risk of the kids falling prey to online predators, the grown-up adults posing as someone of your child’s age, and try to make friends with your child with ill intent.
· Staring passively at an electronic screen for long robs your child off his/her imagining power, which is vital for essential functions, such as generating ideas, solving problems, and entertaining themselves without technology.
· Habitual exposure to electronic screens often leads to addiction that will leave the kids with little energy and motivation for other activities.
Given the negative impacts of excessive exposure to digital screens, parents should limit screen time for their kids. The early years are crucial for mental development to take shape in children. The brain of a child grows the fastest during the first three years that make the period the most important for lingual, emotional, social, and motor skills development. So it is pertinent to insulate them from the negatives of screen time to restrict any impediment in the path of proper mental development, which they will carry into adulthood.
Despite the odds, there are also merits in kids exposing themselves to electronic gadget screens. Electronic devices are certainly not going away in the future, so children must also learn how to use them to extract the underlying benefits. The following are some of the benefits:
· Giving access to online educational tools, electronic screens can support your kid’s learning in a variety of ways.
· Some amount of screen time is helpful for your kid in digitally connecting with distant relatives/important people.
· At times, screen time proves to be beneficial for your kids by enabling them to engage themselves in creative activities, such as creating recordings of family activities, enjoying movies with family, or playing a video game with family members.
Therefore, parents must devise ways to limit the usage of electronic gadgets while not taking away the devices entirely from the kids.
To achieve a balance in screen usage by kids, parents need to implement effective strategies to limit the screen time for their kids. Instilling a desire for creativity in kids perhaps could be the very first step against the kids spending excessive time with electronic devices. Tactfully tempting kids to engage themselves in other interesting hands-on-activities, such as playing with toys, will help a lot in taking away their temptation for the electronic screens. Stocking your kids’ toy box with attractive toys and coaxing them to play with the toys could be a practical step in diverting their minds away from the electronic gadgets. Leveraging your kids’ intrinsic urge to move around, you can also inspire them to play, diverting their minds from electronic screens. We list six principles below to limit screen interactions by your kids:
All Contents are Not Equal:
As there are stark differences in online content in terms of benefits and impacts, teach your kids to focus on the appropriate content, and ignore the inappropriate ones. For example, video chatting with grandpa for a long duration is something parents do not mind, but streaming music videos for long is worrisome for the parents. And, the kids have to be taught to limit such worrisome screen interactions.
Emphasize on Building Relationships Offline:
Introducing the flavor of building offline relationships could be a powerful way of limiting screen usage in kids. With the exposure to online social media platforms, kids are nowadays adept in building relationships online. Still, if parents show them the inherent beauty of offline relationship building, the kids are likely deviating themselves from digital screens.
No Internet During Bedtime:
Enforce a strict rule of no internet usage during bedtime, and encourage them to instead sleep during the time to prepare themselves for another active day.
Increase Frequency of Screen Time Discussions:
Discuss with your kid topics of screen content frequently as a routine affair. And that will put your kids at ease to reveal to you about their screen interactions, and that will enable you to keep a tab on their screen exposure.
No Screen Interactions During Dinner:
Practice the rule of avoiding any interaction with electronic gadgets, especially smartphones, during dinner.
No Screen While Talking to Persons:
Teach your kids that looking away and engaging in screen interactions while talking to other people is rude behavior and should be avoided.
Inculcating tactic screen time habits in your kids is one of the best ways to limit electronic gadget usage in them. Discuss matters related to screen time with your kids in such ways that they understand the usage as only a privilege and balancing the usage of electronic gadgets with other activities is far more critical. Here are some tips to change your child’s screen time habits:
· Create a schedule for screen time usage, limiting time for your kids, and make sure they adhere to it. For example, you might allow only one hour of screen usage at night or charge the family tablet once every two days.
· Become a role model yourself. It is a well-known fact that children tend to emulate what their parents do. So, be cautious and refrain from over screen usage in front of your kids. Limit your own screen usage, so that your kids follow the practice.
· Devise ways to encourage your kids to undergo bodily movements while enjoying screen time. For example, prompting your kids to stretch during a commercial break will help divert their minds to physical exercise.
· Replace video or online games with actual physical games, which will help in keeping your kids away from digital screens.
· Engage your kids in some fun activities without the involvement of the screen. You can take your kids on a walk, join them to a sports team, or put them on a drawing assignment.
No matter what tactical measures you implement, it will be tough to get your kids off the digital screens without a supporting environment. Try to create some screen-free environments at home in the following ways:
· Keep electronic gadgets, like smartphones, laptops, tablets, etc., out of the bedroom.
· Keep aside some time—two hours or so– as screen-free during the day. You can use this time to do your daily activities, such as cooking dinner, taking your child out, or playing a game with them.
· Make it a rule to switch off all electronic devices during dinner and lunchtime.
Whether good or bad, electronic screens are not to go away from your kids’ lives. Despite the negatives of screen time, there are also several positives. Bearing in mind that we are in an electronics age, and hence there is also the need for your kids to become tech-savvy, you should smartly reduce the time of their screen exposure while keeping a tab on what they do. The following are some simple yet powerful tips to keep your child safe while they are online:
· Set the computer or any other devices your kids use with their child accounts and use parental controls to filter the contents they can access online.
· Teach your child to be smart enough not to get carried away by the false identities online and refrain from answering questions by online friends that are personal, such as parent’s names, whether they live with family, etc.
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