The other weekend I was at a mall with my husband and daughter, when a little
incident occurred. We were on our way up to the library on the top floor; taking the escalator bustling with people. I had held my daughter’s hand protectively to make sure she didn’t trip
or bump into anyone in the crowd. Unfortunately, that didn’t quite go as per plan.
There was a mother-son duo standing on the escalator one step ahead of us. As we
reached the top floor, my daughter and I stepped ahead to get off the escalator but
ended up bumping into them! You see, both mother and son had not noticed that
they’d reached the end of the escalator and had continued to stand on the last step
instead of walking on!
The mother looked back and apologized. And that’s when I got a glimpse of the
phone in her hand and realised that she had been busy watching a movie on it
(Monster-in-Law)! So engrossed was she in her screen, that she hadn’t even realised
that she was at the end of the escalator! But that was not the sad part. The sad
part… was that the 7 or 8-year-old little boy with her (who had not even bothered to
look up) was ALSO busy watching an animated movie on his own iPad (Iron Man).
While on a 20-second escalator ride!
This incident took place within mere seconds. But it left me thinking all day long!
How and when did we reached this era in parenting, where it is an accepted norm to
give young children a screen, to keep them entertained – even while walking!!!??
Maybe I was judging (ok not maybe, I was definitely judging), but I felt truly sad for
the little boy. He was losing out on some of the most fun and enriching aspects of
childhood; just by keeping his head down and buried into that screen. Exploring new
places, observing different people, soaking in new experiences – how is it even
possible if the children simply won’t look up? Oh! And how the child’s eyes must be
suffering! Not only had he held the phone dangerously close, but he was walking and
watching at the same time! What sort of example was being set in front of the child?
That this time of walking from one shop to the other, from one floor to the other,
can also be used to look at screens? That it is necessary to give your mind constant
visual stimulation and entertainment?
Ok, so maybe it’s not always so black and white as this. The love-hate relationship
between the three parties involved i.e., kids, parents, and screens, is very
complicated. The relationship is fun while Mr. Screen is in the scene, but then it
almost always ends in tears. And screams. And tantrums.
When parents first start giving screentime to their children, there is a lot of guilt. We
guiltily convince ourselves, “I’ll only give her educational videos to watch”, or
“Maybe we’ll try just this once to see if he eats better while watching a video”, or
“She’s making a scene at this important function. I have no option but to pacify her
with a screen!” But slowly and steadily, this guilt reduces. The phone is given more
easily. The children have to crib a lot less for it. We get used to the convenience and
instant results – peace, quiet, time for ourselves, getting things done quickly from the
kids. We become just as (if not more) dependent on keeping the screens in front our
kids’ eyes to get things done, as dependent they become on the screens to keep
them entertained. And this is when screentime starts becoming excessive and
unmanageable. Nuclear families have not helped. Hectic lifestyles certainly haven’t. And the
pandemic simply made things worse.
Whenever I read a storybook to my daughter, I see her eyes sparkle and dance with
excitement! I can sense her brain furiously working – trying to picture the story being
told and trying to imagine the characters in front of her. It’s the same when I see her
at Pretend Play. I can see her mind whirring enthusiastically with imagination. On the
contrary, if you look at their eyes when they have a screen in front, you will notice a
very different face – a poker face with wide (hardly blinking) open eyes. A zoned-out
face as I call it, where the eyes and ears are getting glamorous entertainment, but
where poor brain development takes a back seat. That’s what excessive screentime
does to children.
I wish things could be different for our little ones. I wish parents were more aware of
the deeper impact that screens have on the children – consequences that go beyond
‘harming of eyes’ and ‘resulting into tantrums’. It is the unfortunate need of the hour
to acknowledge and understand that excessive screentime can result into severe
problems like hormonal imbalance, delayed brain development, asocial
behaviour, lowered self-esteem, eye fatigue, back and neck problems, eating issues,
obesity, lack of sleep,….. oh, the list goes on and on!
Which is why it is so very critical to understand how best to deal with this love
triangle of parents, kids, and screens. Mobiles and other screens are not going
anywhere. In fact, everything is getting more and more digitised. But if we are able to
get our kids develop a good (read: non addictive) relationship with the screen, we
can rest assured that they will use it for the best of its uses.
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