In the 90s, playtime meant going out to the playground, gathering friends, and playing various games like catch, hide and seek, seven squares, and other games that encouraged physical activity. Parents in the 21st century, however, long to see their kids play outside. Children these days are exposed to mobile devices and other gadgets at a comparatively early age.
While technology can be used for education, most parents would agree that children these days use gadgets beyond education and often get addicted. Screen time is most often not controlled, and children may end up spending a majority of their days glued to TV screens, mobiles, tablets, and other devices.
Why Has Children’s Screen Time Increased Over the Years?
Ever since smartphones became mainstream, children have been exposed to them to either play games, watch videos, online learning or simply keep them engaged. While being comfortable with technology from an early age is great, the comfort has led to a gradual increase in their use.
It has, in turn, led to media companies producing content especially for the consumption of young children. Mobile usage or exposure to screens is not wrong, but, overuse and overexposure could interfere with a child’s mental and physical development.
While the use of technology by kids and screen time has been increasing continuously over the last few years, the Covid-19 pandemic caused an exponential increase in screen time. Children were locked indoors, isolated from their friends, parents needed to keep them busy, and most importantly, schools had to conduct online classes.
As you can imagine, children have been glued to screens since then, and unhealthy habits have developed ever since. If not addressed early, overuse of devices and gadgets could have serious implications as the children grow older.
Why Is Excess Screen Time Bad for Children?
Children can derive many benefits from the use of gadgets like TVs, phones, laptops, and computers as there is a lot of educational content out there. Using it for entertainment occasionally or systematically is also encouraged.
However, exposure to screens becomes a cause of concern when there is no set time or accountability about the number of hours spent looking at them.
Screen time basically involves the kid just sitting and looking at the screen with zero physical activity. It could have many adverse effects apart from effects on physical and mental health.
Excess uncontrolled screen time can lead to:
- Problems with vision
- Lethargy and inactivity
- Mindless snacking or unexplained hunger
- Stunted growth
- No mental development
- Exposure to inappropriate content
- Exposure to misleading information
- Risk-taking behavior
- Falling prey to cyberbullies and criminals
How Can You Make Screen Time Safe for Your Children?
Almost every device is connected to the internet these days, and the internet can be a scary place. Not knowing how to keep oneself safe on the internet can create trouble. While controlling screen time is important, it also important to ensure that you teach your children how to be safe on the internet.
We have created a list of few things that parents can do to promote healthy online behavior.
1) Educate Your Child About the Internet
The first step is to educate children about the internet, how it works, and its nature.
Parents must ensure their children understand what the right content is and what could be potentially dangerous, like fraud emails, advertisements, etc.
Educate your children about not believing everything on the internet.
As a parent, you must continuously remind your child that they must not share anything over the internet which they would not want the world to see. Tell them how everything stays on the internet forever once shared. It could help them understand the gravity of what you mean and help them stay alert whenever online.
2) Exercise Parental Control
You wouldn’t want your child to get exposed to inappropriate content or information like pornography, violence, fraudulent ads, and other misleading information. It is important that you deploy parental controls on all devices that your child uses.
However, be ready that at some point, your child will get exposed to inappropriate content and condition them to come to you whenever in doubt.
3) Schedule Screen Time
Your child may need to use devices to attend class or do a project. Be closer to your child when they are using a device so that you can check on them occasionally. Beyond education, schedule recreational screen time and set aside time for physical activity too.
Whenever possible, accompany your children when they use devices and be actively involved with them. Regularly ask your children what they have been watching, playing, or reading on the internet and ask questions.
How Can You Manage Your Child’s Screen Time?
Once you have set the grounds for safe online behavior, the next step is to manage their screen time well. You cannot keep them away from screens, so here is what you can do.
- Set time limits for your child where they are not allowed to watch something at a stretch beyond a specific amount of time.
- Do not encourage solo mobile usage until the age of 5 years.
- Encourage them to play games that involve puzzles, problem-solving, and creativity.
- Set an example with your own use of devices.
- Do not let them use phones while studying or doing homework apart from projects that require the internet.
- Set strict rules about no screens before bedtime.
- Do not let your child go to bed with a phone.
- Ask them to charge or keep their phones out of their rooms at night.
- Set a no phone at the dining table rule from the beginning.
- Set a deadline for each day beyond which screen time is not allowed.
- Reward your kids on the days when their screen time is low.
While all of these may help control your kid’s screen time, encourage them to play games that encourage physical activity. Ensure they have a healthy diet loaded with fresh fruits and vegetables. Instead of unhealthy snacking while watching something, encourage them to drink water and have fresh snacks like carrots, cucumbers, nuts, and fruits.
Also, it is extremely important that you set an example of correct screen usage as children are impressionable and develop habits that they observe around them.
Once you create a healthy environment for mobile usage and screen time, you can be sure that your kid will find other things like board games, books, or other physical activity to keep them engaged when it is not screen time.