It is a foregone conclusion that kids are going to have screen time. The only question is how much and how to control. Almost each and everyone I meet has an opinion about managing the screen time for kids. Digital space and newspaper inches abound with advice on this subject.
I have seen some of the suggestions to control screen time for kids. In my honest opinion, these would not work. These suggestions are like – creating “technology-free zones”. I feel, it has to be the other way round. Only 1 or 2 places in the house where technology can be used, rest to be devoid of it. Another input is to set aside times to unplug. Again, the advice is in reverse. The real-life advice has to be set aside times to plug. Rest all the time is to unplug.
One other gem that I have come across – let kids earn screen time. It is outrightly inane. Screen time is no carrot for which I would want to use a stick. We have no belief in rewards and punishments. Another crazy advice is to obtain your child’s passwords. What next? Put a drone behind your child?
Seeing all these experts’ advice floating around, I thought I might as well list down my hands-on tips on how I, as a stay-at-home father, am managing screen time for my five-year-old twin daughters.
Look at your screen time first
Give the children a break. We will speak about them later. The kids were not born with an idea that they will have screen time and oodles of it.
To start with, who showed them the screens? What do the kids see when they learn to turn around/sit/walk/speak? What do the kids see when they wake up / are being fed / potty is being cleaned / are asleep? Their parents glued to their respective screens.
The kids are only imitating the behaviour they see and remember, they are kids and not adults. When the adults find it difficult to control their screen time, why haggle behind the kids?
We sold off our television when our twin daughters were born. I, to date, use a feature phone. My wife uses two smartphones; I use an I-pad. We have an understanding that when we are with our children which is all the time as far as I am concerned (I am a stay-at-home father and my daughters do not go to any formal environment) and when my wife is at home, we shall NOT use the screens.
There is nothing more urgent than spending time with our children. Period.
Let the kids be the decision-makers about their screen time, Within the set limits
We know that our daughters are bound to have screen time. There is no point in squabbling with the inevitable. They know about its existence and they better have it at home, in front of their parents, than anywhere else, with anyone else.
Currently, we have told our daughters that they can have their screen time on I-pad, once a day. They are free to decide the time. They can have it in the morning/afternoon/evening/night. The girls have the screen time for 30-45 minutes. They do not have the concept of time, but we have learnt by trial and error that the short duration does not work. There are, of course, aberrations when they see I-pad twice a day, but few and far in between.
With this rule, they feel that they have the ownership of their screen time and they have to use it judiciously. We have set the boundary limits of having it once a day, we are happy. They feel that they are getting to decide on their screen time, they are happy. So far, so good.
Screen time to end with advance intimation, and not abruptly
Again, this is what we have learnt by trial and error. What would happen if somebody snatches a smartphone from an adult when s/he is in the middle of the game/binge-watching? There would be mayhem. It is similar to that. Just because they are kids, it does not mean that their screen time has to be snatched away from them.
Our daughters start their screen time at their pre-agreed time/schedule. Now, unfortunately, they do not have a sense of time (not that adults are any better when they are binge-watching). So, we have agreed with our daughters that whenever their story/rhymes are coming to an end, they will have to switch off the I-pad. If their stuff is getting extended further, they are told with a gap of 10/5 minutes that their time is nearing to shut shop and they are fine with it to continue on the next day.
We believe that if the kids are made to understand and explained with logic/rationale, there is no reason for them to throw a tantrum. They understand that if there is no electricity, there would be no internet on I-pad. They know that broad-band does not work once in a while, so they will have to let go off their screen-time, as and when it happens.
When they are showing this much of understanding, why not trust them in shutting down the device rather than snatching it away?
Screen time for kids is a necessary evil crept into our lives. It is bound to stay forever and better to control with practical clearly laid-down rules for children and more importantly, for own selves.
This cannot be done when the kids are growing up. It is better to discuss and agree upon between parents before the genie goes out of the bottle – the child sees the existence of the screen time when s/he opens the eyes in this world besotted with screens.
What would be your suggestions?