Have you ever heard a song on the radio and ended up singing it all day long?
Or have you seen a scary or disturbing movie and lost your sleep at night?
Have you watched a TV series and cried along with one of the characters?
The impact of screens is HUGE in our lives.
So much so that what we see and what we hear has slowly (but surely) shaped our thoughts.
And if this is the case for us adults, imagine the kind of impact it has on our children.
Considering the fact that maximum brain development occurs by age 7 and further building by age 12, what children see, do or hear at this age will shape their entire future.
RELATED: 12 mind-boggling brain games to activate thinking in kids
But in today’s digital world, is it ideal to take kids completely off screens?
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.
We spoke to Vidya Ragu, psychologist, learning and development specialist from Chennai who shares with us the science, impact, and even a secret formula for parents to strike the right balance!
But before we dive into it, let’s first understand one thing — screen time has today become a dilemma for parents because today’s children are ‘digital babies’.
On one side, you really can’t take them completely off technology — because that will just handicap them in the future.
And on the other hand, they shouldn’t use too much of it!
So where do you draw the line?
Vidya suggests that firstly, as parents, you need to understand what screen addiction is.
Screen addiction is when too much screen usage makes a child completely lost in it and they end up feeling that screens alone will make them happy.
They reach a point where they always want to go back to it every time their hands are free!
Screen addiction today is also called digital heroin – which means it’s as bad as drugging a child. It ruins relationships within the family, children get into a cocoon, conflicts arise, etc.
And that’s not all…
Screens trigger the reward mechanism or the pleasure parts in the brain – which makes the child more addicted. The reason this occurs is that screens in whichever form – tabs, smartphones, TV, video games, etc. are extremely stimulating.
Visually, auditory, sensorially, screens provide the best of the best! And nobody, not even a parent, can compete with it. Too much screen time can tremendously impair a child’s development and Vidya Ragu explains how…
The Impact Of Screen Time In Children That You Didn’t Know About:
Have you observed that more children these days are complaining about neck pain?
You’ll see them lying down, slouching over or sitting down and bending over it. The moment they sit down and bend, their spine alignment gets altered.
And this misalignment has a direct correlation to their blood circulation resulting in impairment of brain development. Here are some impacts of too much screen time on a child’s physiology:
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) 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, teamwork, etc. Thus, with no physical activity, the child’s ability to socialise also diminishes.
4) 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.
5) 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.
6) Causes irregular sleep cycle
Dr. Uthista explains, “Another problematic aspect of too much screen time 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.
Ever noticed how irritated a child gets when you take him/her off the screen? That’s because they are being denied the stimulating experience that screens provide.
Vidya explains, that when a visual is stimulating, the scene flashes again and again in the child’s mind – and lasts for a longer impact. Subsequently, a child’s creativity gets diminished because the child’s spending time staring at a screen.
Another issue is that children especially between 5 and 12, constantly observe people in their surroundings and develop their language skills, social skills, communication skills, interpersonal skills, confidence etc.
But when the child spends too much time staring at the screen, he/she is denied the opportunity to make these interactions and develop.
1) 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 worlds 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.
2) Unable to tolerate losses
Most activities on the 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.
3) 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.
4) 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].
5) 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.
Without communication, he/she can’t know the right from wrong, becoming biased and not knowing how to interact with others.
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 ready-made answers to problems instead of putting their unique and creative minds to test.”
Research also shows that too much screen time also causes speech delay — which means, the more the screen time for your child, the longer it will take for their speech to develop!
Needless to say, children who spend too much time with screens during the years of development, will find it very hard to deal with, establish and maintain relationships.
Their over-involvement in the digital world may also reduce their ability to process things in the ‘real’ world. Especially in terms of different sensory aspects like touch, smell, etc.
So how can you as a parent help nullify the impact that screen time has on children? How do you prevent your child from falling prey to screen addiction?
Vidya Ragu has a secret formula for us with which you can hit away all your parenting worries! It’s called ‘BATS’. Let’s get into each aspect one by one! Read on.
Secret Formula To Prevent Screen Addiction In Your Child – BATS
B – Boredom
“Mummy am bored”
“Papa, I don’t know what to do… Am bored”
As parents, when you hear your child scream “I’m Bored”, don’t you rush in to save them from boredom?
Whether you’re travelling by car, at someone’s house or out for dinner, when your child is ‘bored’, and when you run out of ideas, it’s a likelihood that you’ll turn to the easiest and ever-present saviour in disguise – the stimulating smartphones.
But what is boredom, and what is its connection with screen time?
Vidya explains that as parents, somewhere we’ve mistakenly drawn the conclusion that it’s our responsibility to save our children from boredom or that boredom is ‘bad’.
Boredom, on the other hand, is a precursor to creativity. And in today’s digital era creativity is much more valued than IQ or EQ. Today, being ‘different’ matters. And being ‘bored’ is the precedent to thinking differently!
So the next time your child says he/she is bored, don’t rush and react. Instead, respond. How do you do this?
Simple – throw the ball on their court!
Ask them, “what do you think we can do? Shall we try something different?”
And encourage them to come up with solutions that are screen-free!
Next, let’s look at some alternatives!
A – Alternatives
The idea of finding alternative activities is to slowly take kids off the screen and shift them towards something that will build their creativity.
So to do this, first identify what your child is inclined towards and use them as alternatives to screen time!
Does your child like to draw? Sing? Dance? Or to cook?
Use their interests positively and get them engaged without screens.
In fact, you can also help them develop Hobbies this way or help them prune their skills by joining classes.
It’s seen that most kids enjoy engaging with nature. So sowing seeds, watering plants or going on a nature walk will work great! With these ideas, you are kindling their curiosity and getting them to engage more creatively!
Here are some ideas:
a) 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.
b) 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 carom board, chess, etc help build:
- coordination skills
- cognitive skills
- decision making skills and so on
c) 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 the 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.
d) Try an activity box like Flintobox
Another alternative is gifting your child an activity box! Educational boxes like Flintobox are designed by child experts and game designers to engage and entertain children in an equally stimulating environment as screens.
The activities are colourful, engaging, fun, help the child develop holistic skills, introduces them to new themes and concepts every month, and the child learns through explorative play! For more details, visit flintobox.com >>
Next comes Time!
T – Time
If you notice closely, you’ll find that there’s a pattern in your child’s screen time. There’ll be a certain time in the day when your child is ‘hooked’ to screens. Identify this ‘time’ and break it with something more creative!
Here’s an example…
When you pick your child up from school, does your child get into the car and play games on the phone?
Then break this!
Instead, turn up the volume and sing a song with your child!
Or if your child runs home and immediately picks up a gadget to play with, break that pattern!
Take him/her for a nature walk, or to a class that they enjoy, or somewhere outdoors!
The last one is the most important!
S – Support & Surrounding
Instead of blaming your child when he/she is watching TV or playing with gadgets, offer them support! And we really can’t blame the kids when we ourselves are peering into our phones all the time. Children mirror us so it’s up to us to create the right surrounding through communication.
When you bond more with your child, he/she will enjoy your voice more than that of a screen. So share experiences, bond together and give the screens a break! Or better still…
Take An E-Fast As A Family
Say hello to family time! Set a time limit – say 2 hours, and the entire family puts their gadgets away and go on an e-fast!
Use this time to play, go out and spend time together!
And here’s a tip: don’t forget to talk like them with them!
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.
Here are some other ideas:
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.
a) 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.
b) 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 6 pm to 9 pm – 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.
c) 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. In case 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.
4) 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 only age-appropriate content.
Is there a way to turn screen time into your favour?
Do you want your child to learn or develop a new skill such as improve their handwriting? Do you want your child to eat vegetables? Or any such desirable action? List it out!
Show this list to your child, and every time they do this in a day, they earn stars. And once they earn a certain number of stickers, they can get to use their screens/gadgets for a specified time!
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!
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Article originally published on – October 31, 2016, updated on – Feb 10th 2020