The golden rule when it comes to managing children's screen time, parents need to lead by example first and prioritize nourishing personal connections and real conversations.
Your family meals and real-time conversations are in grave danger! Walk into any restaurant and watch any Indian family at the table. Notice the parents and the children. It is most likely that at least one child is holding a smartphone or an iPad and engaging with it actively, unaware of the conversations that are happening on the family table and oblivious to anything else but the world that is coming alive on his smartphone or iPad. A click and a whole new world absorb a child’s complete attention from everything else around him, especially parents.
A large number of studies conducted across the world have probed into the pros and cons of increased screen time that children spend during their family meals.
Studies indicate that the amount of time that children spend together as part of family meals has a strong correlation with their academic achievements. Not just that, children who are actively participating in the family meal conversations are shown to have fewer behavioral issues, reduced rate of teen smoking, drinking as well as drug abuse and less obesity.
No doubt, parents and educationists are aware of the damaging effects of increased screen time that children now expose themselves too. The most disturbing aspect is also that even the most educated Indian parents are not taking this seriously enough.
Increased children’s screen time over family means is now linked with poor sleep, unhealthy dietary preferences, obesity and cardiovascular disease in children.
A much-cited research study that analyzed the behavioral pattern of thousands of Canadian school kids shows that pre-school children who spent considerable screen time are demonstrating clinically significant ‘inattention’ problems besides ADHD-type issues in their behavioral pattern.
So, what exactly is the way forward?
The most important takeaway from these studies is that parents need to take charge of their children’s screen time on a daily basis and find creative ways to reduce their child’s dependency on gadgets. While this is easier said than done, family meals offer a great place to start on a daily and incremental basis.
Wondering how? Here are simple tips to get started:
1. Establish a gadget-free routine around your family meal.
2. Every family member makes sure that they take no calls or no gadgets during the family mealtime.
3. Have real and positive conversations with children – it can be anything that interests them so that they are excited enough to share it with you over the meal.
4. Make every family meal about ‘children’ and ‘family’ and give less space to gadgets.
5. To make your efforts truly complete, develop a very positive and candid communication routine with children and spend less time pointing out their faults and criticizing them for every little mistake.
6. Pick your battles carefully because you don’t want your child to feel a need to escape conversations with you and get back to being glued to gadgets.
Keep in mind that when a routine is established and continued for at least a month, your next step can be to find another time slot for children that you can ‘free up’ to block the usage of gadgets. A doable example is blocking at least two hours of study and homework time on a daily basis.
Remember, blocking small pockets of time can make a big difference to children on a daily basis and their behavioral patterns will also indicate the same in terms of more attention to studies and surroundings, increased interest in physical activities and participation in team-related activities and family gatherings. The golden rule when it comes to managing children’s screen time, parents need to lead by example first and prioritize nourishing personal connections and real conversations.