Earlier this week we took a short flight out of the city. As always, we were the last ones to enter the plane. As we walked towards our seat, I was amazed to see everyone looking down at their smartphones! I remember not too long ago, we used to see faces smiling at little kids walking down the aisle with huge grins on their faces. Right now we were only seeing heads lost in a virtual world.
But I am not going to launch into how smart phones have changed our lives. The fact is that the world has changed. ‘Screen time’ is no longer equivalent to ‘wasting time’. We use our digital devices to work, study, play, socialize and communicate. It is impossible, and not even beneficial, to cut out digital devices from our and our children’s life. The real question then is how much should we, as a parent, regulate screen time and how?
There have been numerous studies on this issue of children using smart devices and while until few years back most research said gave a complete thumbs down to screen time, things seem to be changing now. Now the focus has shifted to ‘health family screen time’, which in very quick words, means that screen time is absolutely fine as long as we ensure the following:
- Screen time should not interfere with children enjoying healthy and fun activities including reading, physical and creative play, enjoying variety of hobbies and social time with family.
- Children should watch or use quality content on screen.
- Children should get enough sleep.
You will find numerous articles offering tips on how to reduce screen time for children but very few on how to ensure that your child uses screens in a balanced way. Here are my favorite tips on converting ‘screen time’ into ‘family time’.
1. Screen time should not mean letting kids play only educational games. Key is to spark thinking and curiosity in children. Introduce fun educational online puzzles to children and find games that encourage using problem-solving skills. Check out TED-Ed’s YouTube channel. They have a series of super-fun puzzles and have recently launched a “Think Like a Coder” series which I absolutely love.
2. Find games that focus on “making” rather than just “playing.” Essentially, pick games that do not follow a pre-determined pattern. Pick games that encourage children to build something on their own – a robot from a set of given pieces, imagining their own garden – anything that encourages creativity.
3. Play an online game with your child. Apart from being super fun, this is a great way to bond with your kids – you are doing something that they enjoy! Scrabble, chess, racing championships – there is so much to enjoy together.
4. Talk about what the kids are watching with them. Help them make connections between what they are watching and what is happening around them. Few weeks back I wrote a blog regarding raising empathetic kids. One of the suggestions given there was about watching shows together and talking about feelings of the characters – isn’t that a lovely way to teach children about various emotions!
5. Watch something together. There are so many brilliant shows which kids and grown ups can enjoy together. Our Planet and Blue Planet on Netflix are our favorite. We also love showing the kids cartoons that we grew up watching – Tom & Jerry, Duck Tales! Don’t forget to make this shared screen time extra special with a tub of pop-corn!
Bottomline – don’t rule out smart devices completely. They are here to stay and it is time we adapt our lifestyles to this reality. So, next time you are let your kids watch a bit of their favorite show so that you can focus on something – do not feel guilty. When you see a family giving phone to their child so that they can enjoy a peaceful meal – do not judge them.
On that note, let me go and watch an episode of Octonauts with my children.
See you soon.