I guess you’ll agree that one of the most daunting questions that parents today face is – how to reduce the rising TV and smartphone time in their children?
Considering the increasing dependencies on gadgets and screens, it isn’t any surprise that children quickly start spending more than the desired time with these gadgets. This rising screen time naturally worries parents, leading to an all out search for alternatives to take their kids off Television and smartphones, which usually ends up in disappointment!
So is there no way to get children off screens?
Well, regardless of today’s tech rush, these gadgets and screens are distractions that can be easily overcome. Infact there are activities and alternates that we’ll shortly discuss to help achieve the same. But before we take a look at those, it is important to understand why this rising screen time is of concern.
Often, due to the inadequacy of time and the piling work loads, parents resort to gadgets and smart screens to engage their children. Dipika, a Blogger and a Freelance Educationalist explains, “Very often to save our crucial time, we search for easier options to divert the curious minds of kids.” These smart screens offer creative and engaging content that easily grab the interests of children.
“Initially, we introduce gadgets to our babies to pacify them, and gradually, it becomes a habit and finally, an addiction.” says Neha Jain, founder of Digimother blog. Dipika explains, “This diversion can lead to ‘make or break’, if not valued/monitored.”
What’s worse is that, this alarming rise of screen time has resulted in rehab centers and deaddiction courses spawning up in many countries [SOURCE: WashingtonPost]. So how does kids watching tv or gadgets turn into such a concerning issue? Let’s take a look at the harmful effects of watching TV and using phones:
11 ways through which excess TV and Smartphone time can impact your child’s growth
1) Causes headaches
Prolonged exposure to bright blue light coming from the screen [SOURCE: Harvard Medical School] generally induce headaches in children.
The underlying problem is that, constant headaches decrease a child’s ability to concentrate and perform tasks efficiently.
Dr. Uthista Ram Thota from YourDOST, who specialises in Child Psychology explains, “Gadgets have a massive negative effect on children today. (They) have less energy and a hard time concentrating in school.”
This in turn disrupts his/her studies and performance [SOURCE: Cambridge University] in various activities.
2) Leads to poor vision
I think you’ll agree that the number of children wearing spectacles nowadays is much more than that during our childhood.
The excessive exposure to bright blue lights can strain your child’s eyes. Research shows that constant eye strain leads to poor vision even in adults [SOURCE: BBC].
Poor vision and even headaches generally result in the need for spectacles, making it difficult for your child to participate in sports and other activities.
3) Affects posture
Excess time in front of gadgets affect your child’s posture. It forces your child to remain in unhealthy postures for prolonged periods, resulting in severe neck pain [SOURCE: Livemint]..
How? Let me explain.
Have you ever noticed how your child sits while using the mobile phone? Do you remember the Facebook meme where people are shaped like an ‘f’ to show how addicted all have become?
Well, it isn’t just a meme. After interacting with these gadgets for a while, that is how both you and your child usually end up sitting.
TVs are no lesser culprits either. Children watching TV generally sit with their heads inclined to one side. This usually affects their posture, leading to neck pain.
4) Causes obesity
According to American Heart Association, 1 in 3 children are obese. Obesity is a major health-related problem arising due to excess screen time.
“Children are found to carry a much higher risk of childhood obesity as they do not take part in outdoor play and run a high risk of becoming ‘couch potatoes’”, says Dr. Uthista.
As a result of increasing interactions with gadgets, children spend prolonged times idly sitting in one place, without any physical activity.
Both of these contribute directly to the rise in obesity, which in long term leads to other health issues..
5) Causes irregular sleep cycle
Dr. Uthista explains, “Another problematic aspect of screens is that they have been shown to disrupt sleep.”
A child who spends a lot of time watching TV or enganging with gadgets, especially before bedtime, faces difficulty in sleeping. The bright light emitted from screens make the brain think it’s day time, disrupting sleep [SOURCE: Harvard Medical School].
This causes the child to keep on tossing and turning around, unable to fall asleep. Lack of sleep or irregular sleep affects a child’s sleep cycle, daily routine, and in turn, his/her health.
6) Decline in physical activity
With tonnes of interesting and engaging content available on screen, physical activity will seem more of a task to children.
However, lack of physical activity leads to lack of exercise for the muscles and body, lack of getting fresh air, etc., all of which are essential for a child’s development.
Physical activity also provides an opportunity for a kid to make new friends, communicate, and learn key skills like coordination, team work, etc. Thus, with no physical activity, the child’s ability to socialise also diminishes.
7) Takes a toll on imagination
Imagination and creativity are an integral part of your child’s development. When was the last time you saw your child pretend play with just a cardboard box, imagining a whole new world and story around it?
You more often notice children these days spending a lot more time on gadgets than the real worlds. They usually get attracted to these virtual world and remain there for prolonged periods of time. This endless time watching TV or playing with gadgets, deprives them the time to think on their own and be imaginative.
8) Unable to tolerate losses
Most activities on screen like games make life simpler and are more attractive for your child.
So, whenever faced with a loss or an unfavourable result, he/she always has a choice to restart, sparing the disappointment of a loss.
However, this makes your kid unable to tolerate losses in real life, leading to frustration and inability to learn virtues like patience, sportsmanship, etc.
9) Gives way to anxiety & depression
A child who spends more time on screen is prone to be either anxious or depressed when asked to get off screen — you may have already seen this yourself. Most of the time, he/she argues with you and tries to stay on screen for some more time.
Even if you do manage to get your little one off screen, he/she will seem uninterested in mingling with anyone. This further decreases your child’s interaction and communication skills, and thus, the ability to socialise.
10) Increases violence
A child who plays a lot of violent games is said to imbibe and imitate what he/she sees.
For example: if a kid plays a lot of action games, he/she will constantly be seen punching, hitting, or shooting imaginary opponents.
As Dr. Uthista explains, “(Since) Children naturally model what they see, they are more likely to display aggressive behaviour.”
However, the problem is that, involuntarily the child becomes rude, agitated, and often picks up fights with siblings, friends, classmates [SOURCE: The Hindu].
11) Leads to lesser social interaction
The worst effect of tv/gadgets on children is perhaps social disconnection. Research shows that excess screen time is making kids less social [SOURCE: Telegraph].
The most important part of a child’s development is communication. With more screen time, communication decreases, exposing the child to the views and opinions of whatever he/she sees.
As Lata, the founder of Fabulous Mom Life blog puts it, “I am all for technology savvy kids, but excessive and unmonitored exposure to screens of all kinds is bad. It clogs the creative outlets of kids. They begin to look for readymade answers to problems instead of putting their unique and creative minds to test.”
So how can you limit the time your child spends in front of screens? Let’s take a look.
Simple & Practical Ways to Break Screen Addiction In Your Child
You certainly cannot cut short your child’s interactions with gadgets in a single day, but there are ways in which screen time can be converted into a healthy pastime. All it requires is one thing: your involvement!
The 2 main techniques to cut screen time are:
- by introducing better, more engaging alternatives to screens and
- by monitoring and regulating screen time
I. Through better alternatives:
1) Encourage hobbies
Hobbies help take children off screens. As Dipika explains, “Pick up activities like painting, puzzles, drawing, dancing, etc. Remember parent’s participation piques the child’s interest immediately.”
If your child takes up reading, then provide him/her new books every week, and place rewards for completing each book.
Rewards are always great motivators for children. Rewards get your child more involved and thus, takes him/her off screen.
But remember, rewards don’t necessarily be chocolates, they can be more books, study materials or even praises. It’s better not to inculcate the habit of rewarding with chocolates and like materials.
2) Spend time for games
“Sports is the best answer to this issue. Whether or not your child is inclined towards sports, there must be some kind of active play that will interest them. Activity on the field provides mental and physical stimulation and TV and phones are completely forgotten!”, says Lata.
Games are one of the easiest ways to help take children off screens. You get to engage your child and he/she enjoys the time. Apart from breaking screen time, your little one has the added benefit of enhancing key skills.
Outdoor games like football, swimming, etc help:
- Build motor skills
- Strengthen bones and muscles
- Boost the immune system
“A healthy mind stays in a healthy body. So I engage him in outdoor activities like skating, basketball, etc.”, says Namita Khanna Aahuja, a parent.
Indoor games like carrom board, chess, etc help build:
- coordination skills
- cognitive skills
- decision making skills and so on
3) Engage your child in household chores
How about getting your little one to assist you in household chores?
It not only takes him/her away from the screen, but also allows you to spend more time with your child. “(While cooking) I let my daughter put all the cut pieces in one bowl and the leftovers in trash bag”, says Rupa Sri Boyapati, a parent.
Apart from bonding, it helps in teaching about cleanliness, discipline, time management, and most importantly how to look after oneself.
4) Spend quality family time
Family time has a significant impact on screen time. Dining together, going for walks, short trips and picnics, avoiding all gadgets, gives way to conversations.
These conversations provide an opportunity to interact with your child and for him/her to share things with you.
Dr. Uthista explains, “Spend more time with your children. Kids who are found to be lonely are more likely to look for a sort of companionship in gadgets. For example get down on the floor with your kids and pick up a doll. It takes intentionality and selfless love when they are younger. But when they grow up, you’ll be glad you did.”
This ensures quality time and teaches him/her the importance of family and togetherness.
II. By monitoring and regulating screen time
As Dr. Uthista explains, “Be the Parent. It is your job to encourage healthy behaviours and limit unhealthy ones. Sometimes this means making unpopular decisions. Make these tough decisions for your children. And always go the next step of explaining why you have made the decision this will help them follow through and someday choose it for themselves.”
5) Limit screen time
When it comes to breaking your child’s interactions with gadgets, one of the first things to do is setting a time limit.
As Dr. Uthista explains, “If you are not going to turn off the television completely, choose the appropriate television viewing timings for your kids. It is much easier to limit their viewing habit if they understand that they can only watch one show during the day.”
Specifically tell your child when he/she can use a mobile, console, or watch TV and more importantly specify for how long he/she can use it. “It is important to 1st set limitations and make children well updated about Minutes of watching TV or playing Screen Games”, says Leena Prince Chawla, a parent.
If possible, then keep them in the loop while deciding the time slot. Because if kids have a say in the schedule, they are more likely to follow it.
Even when your kid has to use the computer or mobile phone for completing a school assignment, give a time limit. Besides that, whenever he/she uses a gadget, keep announcing the time/usage time left at regular intervals. This helps to take him/her off more easily.
6) Make gradual changes
Don’t ban your child from watching TV or playing games on your phone in one shot. Make gradual changes and cut down an hour a week to start with. Be smart, introduce new activities so that your kid spends less time watching TV or engaging with a gadget, without even knowing.
Also, if it’s his/her favourite show on TV or a new game, give your child half an hour to an hour maximum to entertain himself/herself. Tell your kid it’s important to get up, stretch, eat, or play outdoors especially after sitting and staring at the screen for an hour. Make it a habit.
7) Out of sight, out of mind!
Remember the old saying, ‘Out of sight, Out of mind’?
When things start getting out of hand, it’s always better to take away these gadgets for a short span – may be a couple of days.
Use this time to engage your child with other fun interesting activities and games to take off his/her mind off the subject.
Though they may show resistance at first, a couple of days down the road and he/she will mostly be enjoying all the different activities.
8) Be a role model & mind your screen time
Kids imitate what their parents do. Which is why it would be advisable to restrict your own screen time.
“Children will always gravitate toward the modelled behaviours of their parents. If they see you reading a book, they are more likely to read. And if they see you watching television, so will they.” explains Dr. Uthista.
The easiest way to do that is by putting up restrictions in accordance with your schedule. For example: if you’re putting up screen restriction from 6pm to 9pm – make sure you can avoid all screen works during that time. Make sure to complete all work with screens before or schedule them after this time frame.
Set a good example for him/her to follow. “Our children follow us. If we decrease the use of screens in front of them, their use will also decrease”, says Rima Divyen Shah, a parent.
If this seems absolutely impossible, then make sure to use the gadget from a different room, away from your child’s eyes.
9) Go screen free once in a while
Keep a day for tech-detox. Choose a day in a week or a fortnight to go screen-free as a family.
Take the time to engage your child with other meaningful activities, spending family time and may be trying out new hobbies.
Encourage your kid to fill his/her time with other meaningful and enjoyable activities. Reinforce the fact that gadgets are just an added bonus in our day to day lives.
If possible add a short trip or vacation with no phone (except for maybe calls) and no TV?
10) Avoid buying your child his/her own gadget
“Is it worth it or deemed fit? Don’t buy a gadget because your children want to fit in with their social circle. Buy it only if you are convinced of it is utility and if it fits your affordability.” says Dr. Uthista.
Restrain yourself from buying your child his/her own gadget for as long as possible. Incase your child requires a computer for purposes like school work, make sure that it is used only while you are around.
If you feel the need for a mobile to know of your child’s whereabouts or for safety purposes, then resort to a basic phone. Avoid buying smartphones with advanced functionalities. This way you will be able to monitor and control the screen time of your child.
11) Place TVs and computers in common place
It’s important to make your child’s room gadget free. This is mainly because, the bright blue light emitted by these screens causes the delay of melatonin in the body [SOURCE: The Washington Post]. Melatonin is a hormone that is responsible for inducing sleep. This lack of melatonin disrupts the body’s sleep cycle.
By moving all the gadgets to a common space, you’ll be able to implement a strict usage schedule. This also lets you monitor and ensure that your child is exposed to age-appropriate content.
Your child may throw tantrums or not like the ‘rules’ you create for screen time. Be firm and consistent. Tell him/her, you’re limiting TV-watching, video games, or surfing the web so that they have more time to play — indoor or outdoor, read their favourite comic and have fun! Stay calm and remind your little one why these limits are important.
When it comes to screens, the whole point of finding an alternative arises from the need to engage with something which is more interesting and challenging. Which is where activity boxes come-in.
Filled with activities designed specifically to engage children, these boxes not just help ensure that your child stays off screen, but also aid his/her development!
Flintobox makes theme-based activity boxes for children between 2 and 12 years of age. Each month’s theme is unique and we produce a limited number of boxes every month. You can check them out here!
Do try these out and share with us which worked best for you. If you’ve any other methods that help keep your child off screens, do share them with us in the comments below!
Article originally published on – October 31, 2016, updated on – March 10, 2017
90% of a child’s permanent foundation for brain development occurs in the early years according to Rauch Foundation. An overuse of gadgets can only stunt this growth and cause a negative impact on the child’s overall development.
If your child is spending more time swiping and scrolling, instead of interaction with the real world, you need to act before it’s too late.
Find out if your child is being meaningfully and positively engaged by taking this simple quiz.