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By Mrs. Rajeshwari Bharath

My child is a fussy eater; there are no children of the same age in my neighbourhood hence my child has no one to play with; I have a lot of work to complete - cooking, cleaning, taking care of elders; I work from home; I work and my in-laws take care of my child till I get back, they too need rest in the afternoon; I have a stressful job and am exhausted by the end of the day; I have little or no energy to play or engage with my little one; she is too naughty; he is hyperactive and always up to some mischief; do any of these situations sound familiar. One of the above could have easily been the reason(s) why your child started spending more time in front of the television or using a phone to play. Also these days, educational apps and YouTube videos are easily accessible (when it is educational, it takes away a bit of our guilt or we tell ourselves that we are helping the child “learn more” using technology). As parents or caregivers, one of the most successful ways to get the space and time to unwind/relax or finish our work is by giving children screen time.

Is there any other way to handle this restless bundle of energy?

First of all, as adults, how much of screen time are we indulging in? Are we too attached to our mobile phones? We check our phones every now and then more as a reflex than as a necessity. It is time to ask ourselves how many of us do not look into our phones while eating a meal, driving a vehicle, or while spending time with family.

“All human systems – brain-wiring is through touch, visualization and voice prosody (non- phonetic elements of speech, such as intonation, tone, stress and rhythm). And what we’re noticing is that when we put the devices in the cradle and when parents and young caregivers are on their devices, there is a notable reduction in all of this that’s affecting attachment,” according to Dr. Mari Swingle, Neurotherapist and Learning and Behavioural Specialist.

A question to each parent - in a day how much time does your child spends as screen time? Screen time is the time spent watching television, playing video/computer games, using a tab/phone to play games or watch videos. If you feel your child is spending a lot of time, it is time to make a change, help the child turn away from screens and engage with the real world.

The noticeable consequences of too much screen time are fidgety children who keep moving and are unable to sit in one place or finish a task, lack of concentration, poor social skills, lack of attachment to people around them, signs of aggression and tantrums when screen time is reduced or taken away, poor eyesight and many more.

Pediatricians suggest total screen time of half an hour per day on weekdays and 1 hour during weekends. Sounds tough?? What can we do?

First, make a commitment to yourself and involve family members to help the child. Model what you expect since your child is watching you all the time. More often the child learns from “what is seen and NOT what is told.”

Make the change slowly without reprimanding the child: If your child is watching 4 hours of TV and playing 1 hour on your smart phone, your goal to reduce screen time to half an hour will take at least 6 to 8 weeks. To start, reduce by half an hour every week; importantly, when you do reduce the time, you need to distract the child by taking her/him outside to shop for daily groceries or to the park or even to a friend’s place. Slowly but surely, you will be able to bring down the screen time. Consistency is the key to any behaviour modification.

Give your child choice; the child feels a sense of pride in making small decisions. “Do you want to do colouring or shall we go to the market?” Be patient and consistent; don’t give up even if things look very discouraging. Even after you bring down the screen time to half an hour, it will take more than 6 weeks for you to notice any changes in the child (eg. Restlessness, not concentrating, aggression etc).

“Change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end” – Robin Sharma.

Let us make this change happen for the welfare of our children and the future society.

(For more information on this topic do read the book i-Minds by Dr. Mari Swingle and learn more about how cell phones, computers, gaming, social media are changing our brains, behaviour and the evolution of our species.)