Jim and Margaret were worried. Their kids John and Sarah, were spending all day staring at a screen. If it wasn’t the mobile phone, it was the tablet. If it wasn’t the tablet, it was the television. Whether it was binge-watching a television series or spending hours building an empire in an online game, the two children were in the clutches of the digital world.
The COVID-19 pandemic left parents concerned about the screen time consumed by their children. With classes going online, the number of digital hours has also increased. This raises the question: How much screen time is too much?
The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry recommends 1-2 hours for children aged between 2 and 5 years. It says there is no ‘one-size-fits-all approach’ for kids older than 5, as long as it doesn’t interfere with learning, relationships with peers and family, physical activity, sleep, or their mental health.
UNICEF states that while children will encounter adverse effects of spending too much time in front of screens, it is not because of the time spent, but rather on the type of content they consume.
The key is to teach them how to be safe with technology because, ultimately, we want our children to be in charge of technology rather than feeling technology is in charge of them.
Elaine Halligan, London director of The Parent Practice
While experts are still struggling to determine the exact amount of ‘good screen time for children', they recommend the following steps not to let the digital world consume them:
- Stay in touch with friends: Children must play and communicate with friends. One way to do this is by building a bubble around you during a pandemic so that you and your family meet a select group of family members or friends to ensure you don’t damage your social skills over time.
- Engage and be part of your child’s life: Talk to your child about their online experiences. Sensitively approach issues if they have encountered a site or played a game, that is meant for an older audience. Most importantly, monitor their happiness quotient, which is vital during these times.
- Let them play video games with more physical activity: Today, thanks to new technology, gaming consoles also act as fitness monitors. So the only way you can play virtual games like tennis, basketball, dance-offs, etc., is through physical activity. Exercise releases endorphins that give you a sense of well-being. Now that’s a win-win for everyone.
It’s natural as a parent to fear your child’s well-being, but instead of letting your fear manifest into something negative that affects your child, be a part of your child’s activity over the weekend. It will only strengthen your bond.