Why Parents Should Manage Children’s Screen Time
“I wouldn’t have friends if it wasn’t for Snapchat and Instagram” claimed one 15-year-old girl, after her mother discussed how much screen time she was having. This is just one of the many new arguments that parents must now confront when attempting to reduce their child’s screen time. Arguments that they, themselves, never used to have as children.
Children and young people in Nepal have easy access to mobile phones and are heavy users of social media. Many children also play games on computers and mobile devices regularly. “The Internet is a wonderful gift of science. It helps children and young people to learn new things, express themselves openly and to communicate easily with their friends and relatives. However, many people in Nepal do not know how to use the Internet safely and manage their screen time" said Anil Raghuvanshi, President of ChildSafeNet. The Nepal-based organization works to protect children and young people online through training and awareness raising programmes. The NGO aims to promote safer Internet use and digital literacy.
The Internet is a portable, open and almost free library, which can be accessed at any time and from almost any place. Children can read online books, watch videos and learn about the world for free. Moreover, teachers often set homework which requires students to use the Internet for research. Social media apps like Facebook or Instagram can be a fun way for young people to interact with their friends. Likewise, computer games can be a fun way to unwind. According to Dr Peter Gray, professor of psychology at Boston College, videogames can help to improve a child’s decision-making skills and eye-hand coordination.
Yet, as with everything children need to be guided with all of these platforms. Parents tell children not to eat too many sweets so that they do not get a stomach-ache and have too much of a good thing. It is the same with technology. Overuse of games and social media combined with a lack of guidance from parents can have physical and mental consequences on a child’s development. This can also make them more vulnerable to interaction with online groomers, bullying and phishing. But “there are actions that parents can take to protect their children from the darker side of web" Anil Raghuvanshi added.
Too much time in front of a screen can harm a child’s mental and physical well-being. Therefore it is very important to limit the amount of time that children use their devices. Problems that arise can include:
Not enough physical activity: Physical exercise helps to keep a child’s heart, lungs and mental well-being healthy. It can also help them to learn about teamwork and improve confidence.
Eye strain: Blurry vision, headaches, dry, watery or itchy eyes and light sensitivity.
Reduced sleep: Staring into screens before bedtime will keep a child’s brain activated. This may affect their sleeping patterns and therefore their physical and cognitive development.
Isolation: Even if children are talking to friends online, children may be missing out on the benefits of interacting and spending time with people outside the world beyond their screens. This may cause them to feel lonely, sad and anxious.
How parents can help children to reduce their screen time
The American Academy of Paediatrics states that children under the age of eighteen months should avoid screen time all together, except for video calling.
Although devices can keep a toddler occupied so that parents can cook dinner or do some other work, it is better to give a toy or a book to young children. Offline activities like reading or playing games help children to acquire new skills and become less dependent on devices for entertainment. Most importantly, parents should manage their own screen time and spend quality time with their children. In May 2019, an American news report, ‘Screen Time, Diane Sawyer Reporting’ on ABC news revealed that adults unlock their phones 80 times a day and spend 49 days a year looking at mobile devices.
Both younger and older children can notice their parents often using their phones and may feel irritated, lonely and lacking in attention. Parents should lead by example and practice what they preach as children tend to do what they see rather than what they are told. Busy jobs often demand that parents check their email over dinner or make a call. But if there is a rule for no phones while eating, it should apply to everyone, including parents. In this way, everyone benefits from more interaction and children will learn to enjoy the real world without staring at their devices.
Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, did not let his children use iPads when they were younger. According to the Teen Safe Parenting Guide to Safety, teenagers spend an average time of five hours per day online even though many parents believe it be just three hours.
Parents can try to organize more games, arts and crafts with their children or draw and colour on real paper rather than just giving children mobile devices. Likewise, it is extremely beneficial if parents encourage children to play sports and play together. Parents can read stories, make comic strips, take a day out or play a board game with their children. They can also organize ‘Weekends without Wi-Fi’. This doesn’t need to be for the whole day, even just a few hours will give everyone the chance to spend some quality time together. It can be scheduled in advance so that children know to have their homework finished. Then, do something fun together. Families can do creative things and learn new skills by spending more quality time together, at least during weekends and holidays.
ChildSafeNet recommends that children’s bedrooms be screen-free zones and that they use an alarm clock instead of using the alarm feature on mobile phones. It can also be helpful to establish clear and consistent rules about when and where children use devices and for how much time. Then stick to them! It is not recommended to ban the Internet all together. It can be useful and often, children will need it for their homework. Technology can also provide fun options for family time. Watching a movie with children or challenging them to a video game will delight them.
To conclude, it is clear that there are many benefits to living in the Digital Age. Yet it is also important to remember that children should also enjoy the world beyond their screens and can benefit from less screen time. Moreover, parents have an important role in developing their children's healthy online habits early on.
Jade Gillespie is a ChildSafeNet volunteer.