Screen time parenting during COVID-19

Is there one new member in the family who has recently been crowned the “my favourite one” by your little one? The one you have a love and hate relationship with? The one you at times consider a co-parent and then on some days you just want to shut it off! The one you hopelessly end up talking about with your friends and family in context to your child

Well yes, it’s the screen time that we all are so worried about and that has become a sort of a co-parent during the lockdown times.

In almost every webinar, every workshop, every discussion; screen time has totally slayed the show. The questions that parents are mostly looking for an answer to are:

  • How often should the child get a screen time?
  • Which kind of screen should be given?
  • How long should be the duration?
  • What content should they be watching?
  • How can we control this all?

To start with let’s understand it all in an order.

Scenario-1: both working parents and single parent

Children of working parents spent a considerable time in the childcare centres they were attending. Thankfully many of the childcare units do not have screen times in the centres. Children at their centres spent time with their friends and teachers and care providers. They were engaged in activities, some of which used to be guided and at times they were in charge of their own time. They had access to tools and resources for hands on learning. And most importantly they had people to talk to any time they wanted to. People they could play with, learn from or just to be with. They were getting attention.

Now, this is the time which is celebrated as the vacation time in most parts of the country. Parents were also planning that and suddenly everything came to a standstill. For parents who are working from home, it is even more challenging to take up the role of an employee, a parent, a homemaker, a teacher, a friend and what not! How so ever hard they try, there still are a few unattended things that stay. At times with no support in hand and both parents on continuous calls, screen does play an awesome role of a co-parent. Isn’t it? So, as soon as a meeting is about to start, we somehow try to get the kid engaged and more often than not, it’s the screen that’s the saviour.

Scenario-2: one working & another at-home parent

Here too children after the school had a schedule to be followed. They had their activity classes, fun time with friends etc. The at-home parent, in most of the cases had a support for household chores and thus could spend time with the child or plan the activities. Now with the extended lockdown and other parent working from home the whole schedule has changed. Children have become clingy and with household chores in hand again the screen is the saviour.

We will come back to the questions now and give our suggestions

Q1) How often should the child get a screen time?

A set of rules are to be followed when it comes to the screen time. Children should be clearly told why they are getting screen time during the day. Try to plan activities to keep them engaged while you are working but that works well only for a little older kids. For toddlers and early learners, take time out every day to define at what time can they watch TV or can have screen time. Stick to what you say. Screen time during mealtimes, after the meetings should be completely avoided.

Q2) Which kind of screen should be given?

This again is a big question. What kind of screen should they be given? Whether it should be a TV or a mobile or a tablet or laptop? When watching a program smaller screens exert more stress on the eyes and because they can be moved, children often keep them too close to the eyes. These screens can be controlled pretty well by the younger children too and thus parental control often goes for a toss. So, preferably it should be TV. You may cast the playlist that you have made for the child to be played on the TV and thus can have better control over the content too

Q3) How long should be the duration?

If the child is watching a certain program or is in the mid of something, please do not put the device off suddenly. As soon as you get time, go and sit with the child and let the child know lovingly yet firmly that you will be putting it off now so that you can play a little and have some fun together. When you are working and it is something that can wait, don’t leave the child with the screen for long. Take breaks and involve your child with the activity that you are doing.

It is easier said than done when you have never done it before but try it and you will see how amazing it can be.

Q4) What content should they be watching?

Spend some time in watching a few programs and you will get an idea of its content, language etc. programs should be more interactive and fun as well. Programs where the main character waits for the response of the child (like Dora, the explorer) and others with some learning content can be included. There are many such programs where the words are carefully selected and add up to the vocabulary and sharpen the oral skills of the child.

Q5) How can we control this all?

As suggested earlier, don’t get upset if the child doesn’t listen to you. Keep giving it a try every day. Talk to them. Tell them that there are rules to be followed. Stay firm and in control. At the same time, don’t let it become too stressful for any one of you.

Keep your day planned as much as possible. Keep a track of the programs being watched. The control should not be with the child completely.

Screen time should also be used as a means to make contact and connect with family. Children can have video calls with extended family, cousins, friends etc. This not only will help them connect but will also improve the communication skills. Regularly interacting or talking with extended family gives them a sense of security and belongingness. The more they involve in conversations, the better the sentence formation is and they learn to express their emotions clearly too

To wrap it up is one piece of advice. Parents don’t judge your own self for doing or not doing anything which looks good on social media. Don’t let the social media posts, challenges etc. put you down. You are doing the best that you can and all of us in this process of parenting learn a new thing everyday.

Happy parenting and happier days to you!

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