You peep into your child’s bedroom to see if he’s asleep and find him playing a game on his phone. The next morning he complains of a headache.
You may pop in to check on your daughter’s progress in completion of an assignment due the next day but find her busy chatting on her phone. Do you find yourself frustrated when your child wants to watch videos on the tab and refuses to eat if he doesn’t?
In this digital age, we cannot separate media from a child’s life. If the right balance is maintained, it can well turn out to be fun and educative for the child.
As parents you may struggle to keep your children away from phones, while you may also use it as a means to distract the child sometimes.
But are you completely aware of what harm excessive screen time can cause or how setting structures benefit? Did you know that screen time can actually be part of a healthy lifestyle for your child when it is neatly balanced with other activities like physical activity and reading? Let’s take a detailed look.
Harmful Effects of Too Much of Screen-Time:
What exactly is the problem?
When we talk of harmful effects of screen time for kids or adults too for that matter, we are basically talking about over-exposure to blue light. Heard of it but never understood what it means?
The LED screens of computers and mobiles emit a broad spectrum of light. A high-energy visible portion of this spectrum is called “blue light.”
Laboratory research tells us that certain bands of blue light can be harmful to the light-sensitive retina of the eye over time.
What also matters is that blue light works as a regulating factor for our body’s circadian rhythm or the internal clock which is the sleep/wake cycle of alertness and sleepiness at regular intervals over a 24-hour period.
Over-exposure to blue light can disrupt this cycle leading to sleep disruption, daytime drowsiness, irritability and in the long term possibly cause sleep disorders. This could affect the child’s performance in school.
What we must also know is that sunlight emits the maximum amount of harmful blue light. Thus, exposure to blue light emitted by digital devices act as an added exposure to what we receive from sunlight. Plus, we are exposed to the blue light of sun rays from sunrise to sunset. But blue light exposure from digital devices can happen any time of the day or night. Thus, timing is crucial.
These are some of the other concerns that can arise due to excessive screen-time:
- Irregular sleep schedules and shorter duration of sleep
- Behavioral problems
- Loss of social skills
- Less time for play
- Neck/shoulder pain
- Reduced attention span
Techniques to Balance Screen-time:
1. Set up Screen-time structures -This is one of the most helpful ones. You could set certain rules for your child regarding screen time:
When: For instance, your child shouldn’t use a phone during mealtimes or playtime.
Where: For example, no phones allowed in the bedroom.
How: Let your child use the phone to watch an informative talk or read an inspiring article, a DIY video but not indulge in passive screen-time playing games that don’t help.
If you have two kids at different ages, you could have the older one play on her phone only when the younger sibling has gone to bed.
- It is fine for you to include time limits to ensure your child has a healthy balance between screen time and outdoor activity. For example, no phone usage two hours before bedtime.
- Use parental control features to lock certain unwanted applications. Preview programs and games before your child can view them. Ensure your child is close by so you can supervise his online activities.
- Aim for short screen-time sessions. Sitting still for long isn’t good for your child’s overall well-being. Have your child moving after completing a level in a game, or set 30-minute timers.
Remember: As your child grows, you will have to make necessary adjustments and decide what and how much screen time is appropriate each day. For example, for children ages 2-5, it is suggested to limit screen-time to 1 hour a day of high-quality programming.
2. Prioritize Unstructured Playtime: No matter how beneficial digital content gets, nothing can make up for fun games outdoors while story-telling and reading promotes brain development and imagination and teaches your child about language and emotions.
1 hour or more of physical activity keeps young minds and bodies active and raring to go. Enrol your child in activities of choice, be it swimming or it could be everyday activities like a cycle ride uphill or walking to school.
Extra-curricular activities like drama, dance, hobby classes like crafts that your child enjoys allows him to meet new people and make friends.
3. Look For Quality Programs: The quality of media your child is exposed matters more than the type of technology or even the time.
- Quite a bit of positive content we consume also comes from digital media. Talk to your child on the kind of information and activities she needs or is using in media. Encourage your child to use good quality video content, TV shows or e-books to enrich her reserves of knowledge. You could also help your child find reliable reviews for digital content and talk to her about what you enjoy watching. Together, you can make informed choices.
- Go for interactive programs that engage your child than just pushing or staring at the screen.
- Eliminate advertisements from apps for young children often find it difficult to tell the difference between facts and ads.
- Steer clear of fast-paced and distracting content.
4. Instill Life-Skills by being there
Be it online or offline, teach your child kindness, to be open-minded. Support your child’s friends by having them come over, plan social activities like hiking for your child. If you’re watching a video on being compassionate, show your child how to do it, for example by celebrating birthdays in an orphanage.
5. Use digital time to strengthen your relationship
Any time you spend with your child is a lovely opportunity to build a strong foundation of trust, communication and nurture connection.
Share your child’s enthusiasm for the world online. Download a challenging crossword game and tackle the levels together. Discuss and share what your favourite music or podcasts you are listening to. You could get your child to take you on a sweet special journey with her about all the games and apps she enjoys using or teach you how to play a game she loves. Build an environment of gentle care and comfort such that your child opens up and talks to you.
6. Be a good role model
Children watch, observe and learn from their parents or caretakers. If you have your phone with you all the time, your child is going to think it is important too. Set aside the gadget when you are with the child. Play with him, make time for your own hobbies.
Keep track of your phone usage. You could ask your child to do that too. Both of you could then compare and see if anything needs to be changed. Talk to each other of the people you follow, or something interesting you saw. Create a space where it is absolutely fine to talk about screen usage.
7. Educate your child about the digital world
While you will always want to preview programs your adolescent uses and be around when he is online, you can’t always do that too. There will be times when your child is exposed to content you haven’t reviewed. Talk to your child about what should be done in such situations.
Let your child think critically about what he is watching on his screen. Is it trustworthy? What makes information factual? Educate your child about how the internet has pieces reflecting different opinions, the difference between fact and advertisement.
In today’s world where social networking is indispensable, tell your child it is okay to be a part of these worlds as far as he knows what is appropriate and what isn’t. Educate him about cyber-bullying, sexting, etc and what harm comes out of it. Above all, no matter how mature your child is or how you monitor his online usage, he will make mistakes. Allow him to come to you, guide him and teach him to deal with these mistakes. That is how all of us learn.
8. Be open to Negotiations:
Rules help a family manage screen time and understand everyone’s expectations. But as the child grows or every time a new screen is purchased, rules can be revisited and changed, while some can be reinforced. It really helps. Some questions you can consider while negotiating rules:
Which apps/programs aren’t to be used and why?
When are screens strictly not allowed? For example, during family unwind time?
What kind of information is fine to be shared online?
What happens if you or your child break the rules?
9. Keep screens away from your child’s bedroom
Last but not least, a child needs 10-11 hours of proper restful sleep. Have your child charge her device outside the bedroom. Say no to computers and phones at least two hours before bed. You could have your child tell you of how her day went or read a story to her instead or even go out for a peaceful walk in the night.
That’s about it! The goal is to ensure your child at the end of the day has a healthy rounded balance between screen time and all other activities. We hope this piece helps you as much as we enjoyed writing it for you.
- Too much screen time translates to over-exposure to blue light, which can disrupt sleep patterns and lead to other problems.
- Quality of online content matters more than technology or the time your child is exposed to it.
- Use digital time with your child to build a secure and nurturing comfortable relationship of trust, communication and comfort.
- A well-rounded balance between screen time structures and playtime goes a long way in ensuring your child’s well-being.