By Samhita Nandi (Parenting Coach & Certified Child Counselor)
The key is to teach them how to be safe with technology, because ultimately, we want our children to be in charge of technology, rather than feeling technology is in charge of them.”
– Elaine Halligan, London director of The Parent Practice
Our children today are digital babies. From a very young age they are allowed unlimited access to a wide variety of screen devices such as computers, laptops, smartphones, tabs and televisions. It is almost impossible to take our children away from digital medium and even if we did so, we will find them lagging behind in a world of advancing technology. So the challenge that parents face is to limit this exposure to technology within an optimum time. There are many research studies investigating the impact of screen time on our children, society, health, academics and behavior but when it comes to screen-time and its limits most of them focus towards “e-discipline”.
Before we get down to disciplining our children and unplug them from a tech obsessed world, it is important to understand the science behind why we get so addicted to the screen.
Science behind the Phenomenon of Screen Addiction
Whenever we see, hear or do something our brain cells or neurons get activated and it creates a pathway which becomes stronger every time we repeat that activity. Screen gadgets trigger the pleasure parts of the brain and makes us want to go back to these devices more and more in turn creating stronger neurological pathways. The digital medium is engineered to deliver a perfect combination of auditory, visual and motion, showcasing a very unique experience to the viewer and providing a very high level of stimulation. This takes away the prominence from real life people or real life experiences. If this is true for us it is more so for our children. What we need to understand here is that what our children are hearing, doing or seeing is going to shape up their entire life. So as parents we need to be aware of what we are exposing our children to and also find a way to control or limit that exposure.
Boredom the root cause
Boredom proneness is possibly the root cause of screen addiction. It can be attributed to an inadequately stimulating environment which leads the child to a state of monotony and dissatisfaction. But with the advent of the digital media technology we have managed to eliminate any need to ever be bored. Every time a child comes to us saying “I am bored”, we as parents feel it is our responsibility to get our children out of boredom and as an easy alternative, hand over a screen to them. In doing so we forget that out of boredom comes the potential for creative impulses, motivation for social connection and inspiration to do new things.
Boredom is the first step to creativity so don’t react to it just respond.
FIVE EASY TIPS FOR REGULATING SCREEN- TIME
1. FIND CREATIVE ALTERNATIVES:
If your child is under a very heavy digital diet, finding an alternative can be a very good idea. These alternatives have to be planned carefully keeping the child’s aptitude in mind. Developing a hobby, teaching a new skill, enrolling your child in physical pursuit like sports or martial arts, providing hands on tasks or activities are all practical strategies which will help to divert your child’s focus from the screen and direct their energies into a more positive direction.
2. CREATE TIME ZONES
Fixed time zones can be set as a part of the house rule. Time zones can be divided into “Time-out Zone”, when watching screen is not allowed and alternatively, “Time-in Zone”, when watching screen is allowed. Once you are ready to start implementing rules and restrictions for screen time, talk about the good things it has to offer and then introduce the idea, why we need to use screens in a healthy way and maintain “e-discipline”. The two specific time zones from which all kinds of screen types should be completely alienated as a rule, are, meal times and bed times. Children who eat with digital distraction are more prone to screen addictions and also have bad eating habits. Screen before bed time must also be avoided at all costs as the high level of stimulation created by these gadgets suppress sleep hormones in children and cause sleep deprivation in them.
3. EARNING SCREEN TIME
In order for screen time to be an effective consequence and a motivating incentive, it needs to be offered and restricted wisely. To use screen as an incentive, list out the desirable things that you need your child to do like chores, hygiene or good behavior and reward them with screen time for a limited period as agreed upon. However, it is pertinent to keep in mind that screen time is a privilege. Your child doesn’t have to like the rule of the house but they certainly do need to find a way to follow them. If they have failed to keep up with the house rules or broken them on purpose, you as a parent need to follow through with a consequence. If it is behavior, homework or house chores that you are looking at, set a specific time frame within which the child has to mend his/her act following which they can earn their privilege back
In order to control our pervasive technical behavior and obsessiveness towards screen it is important to try and abstain from it or regulate its usage occasionally. Decide on a specific day when you as a family will stay away from all kinds of digital medium for a few hours. If you can do it for a few hours then next time you can extend your e-fasting to a day. Though this might make you anxious for a little while, it will also enable you and your children to explore things beyond the virtual. The aim of e-fasting is to help you and your child to reclaim your life, achieve a balance and not become a hostage to digital gadgets.
5. MODEL GOOD SCREEN BEHAVIOR
You as a parent are the most important influence in your child’s life, so what you do and how you do things is going to matter the most. Use your own technical behavior to guide your child. The child watches you to get clues on how to behave and just mirrors what you are doing. As a parent you need to support them by providing an atmosphere where they learn by example. What you do is often more important than what you say. Outlining a family media plan by listing out rules and guidelines that each family member is expected to follow can set standards for reasonable digital consumption and help monitor screen time for your children and yourself.
The best way to address your child’s screen usage may also be to address your own!