It was the wedding season of the year, which means that it was also the time that friends and family poured in from all over. It was a full house at my place, and needless to say, the kids were overjoyed! Playtime with cousins is very special as cousins are your first friends. I had been looking forward to the arrival of the entourage, since I found this a good opportunity for my kids to socialize.
However, over the course of these few days I realized how they were actually spending time together. I had expected them running around the house, jumping on beds and getting dirty in the mud. On the contrary, I saw them sitting in groups and watching videos on YouTube. Or playing games on the phones and tablets. Thanks to these gadgets the toddlers were killing time all day and didn’t trouble the adults, who were most happy to oblige and take advantage of this children-free time. While I was super busy with household chores and hosting guests, my mind was constantly occupied with the thought of these kids uselessly whiling away their time and these special family occasions in virtual media rather than social interaction and building relationships. I also realized that today children have come far ahead in operating cell phones, computers and tablets with ease and finesse, and far behind in social skills. There was a time when we as kids would go down to play with friends every single day, and our parents would blow their guts out shouting at us to come back home. Today we have to convince our kids to leave virtual football and indulge in actual physical ball games. This evolved generation of kids replete with astounding technological skills, faster processing brains coupled with impatient dispositions and need for instant gratification have rendered them incapable of investing time and effort in social relationships. At the toddler level, kids are more interested in entertaining themselves watching videos and playing games than getting out of their comfort zones and being outdoors and making friends. There are so many different available means to spend time with technology that one can comfortably sail through to teens without having to talk more than 50-100 words a day.
These gadgets gradually were introduced in our children’s lives, and started taking up majority of their time, simply because over time we have let it seep into our own lives. We prefer the addiction of an hour of social media rather than the satisfaction from a 15 minute of healthy conversation. We chat online for hours, yet we are lost for words when we meet in person. We hardly call up our parents and family members because we can text them. We sit in the company of our children engrossed in our phones, sacrificing the time we should be spending with them, talking, laughing, playing. Naturally, the child is bound to attach the same value to the phone that we do. We slowly condition our children into believing that technology is an alternative to actual human interaction. However, it is not, and the gradually diminishing social skills made me realize that I needed to address this issue before it was too late.
I came up with a list of things that I found doable to reduce screen time among kids.
- The best approach would be to try and completely replace screen time with other activities. These could be simple things like giving a colouring book and some crayons. Those worried about getting crayons on the walls for toddlers can get affix chart paper to the child’s favourite wall and turn it into a creative ‘my wall’ for the kid.
- Screen time makes kids less active. Hence, to keep kids active we can involve them in simple household chores depending on their age. Helping in making the bed, arranging utensils one they are washed, or for the elder ones even cleaning. They can be given a small treat after helping initially, till it becomes a habit for them. This will also require them to interact with parents, thus improving their communication skills and ability to understand and give instructions.
- Children love water, and a small tub of water filled with toys can occupy them for a good hour. So even if we are not around, we can leave them to play with the water, and clean up once we are free. Neighborhood kids can also be involved in this.
- When everything is visually fed, nothing is left to imagination. A child dependent on visual aids for entertainment needs to exercise his right brain to stimulate creativity. Telling stories is a great way to boost the child’s imagination and develop his interest in sensory experiences beyond the visual. Parents can allot 15 minutes before bedtime to a story telling session so that the child is not exposed to phone or television just before bed. This will also improve their verbal ability and communication and listening skills.
- Books are also a great way to engage the child’s mind. I’m sure that we, as children, would still remember some of our favorite books. We still remember the illustrations, the fragrance of the pages, the hardcover, to the point of nostalgia. It is critical in today’s scenario to consciously introduce books in the lives of our children so that they learn to enjoy non graphic experiences as well, and also develop interest in reading in the future.
- Doing nothing can also be productive. Let the child be bored. They learn to develop patience and calm. Let them sit and look outside a window. Or give them a paper to tear to bit. Or let them do simply nothing. Because in today’s world of instant entertainment available everywhere, children when faced with a temporary lack of entertainment avenue suddenly don’t know what to do. They become irritable and restless. They keep demanding attention from the parents and instead we give them a phone or tablet. This adversely affects their behavior and temperament especially in a social setting. Hence they must learn to deal with their ennui on their own without physical means of entertainment.
These are very few of the many ways in which we can limit children’s exposure to gadgets and develop healthier social and mental capabilities in the long run. In our busy lives, our time and attention has become dearer than phones and tabs. Gadgets should not replace babysitting, neither should it replaced valuable moments spent together with friends and family. Hope we realize it before it’s too late!