When I converse with parents during our much-awaited parent-teacher meetings, one of their primary complaints is regarding their child’s increase in screen time. As the pandemic spreads its vice-like grip on society at large, folks huddle together indoors to survive. Amusing family members ranging from toddlers to grisly husbands is a task, and a digital device gives much-needed respite to all. I am among the guilty who have taken this recourse and can also admit that although giving my young ones Ipads gave me space and peace for a while, I was left feeling guilty and inadequate as a parent.
These sentiments of self-judgement could stem from our traditional ideas of how we believe the next generation should be spending their time. After all, we grew up climbing trees, playing hopscotch in the blazing sun, and resorting to hide and seek indoors on sultry days. If we reflect on our technophobia, its roots may lie in the alienness and lack of connection to the activities online which our children most enjoy. When our young ones immerse themselves in their electronic devices, they seem lost to the world, on a planet aeons away from us. This also implies that it is a perilous world where we cannot shield them, a virtual realm where they can keep things hidden from their parents and perhaps grow up sooner than they should. These fears are not unfounded but can be put to abeyance if a healthy balance can take shape at home.
“Had we been in a physical school, this would never have happened!” said a despondent parent. Another experienced a constant struggle with screen time and requested me to scold her son as she believed he would heed my words and change his mischievous ways once I spoke with him. We cannot bemoan the loss of the four walls of the school that cherished and guarded our children for six hours a day as the pandemic continues to sweep across our lives. Education shifted to a virtual platform more than a year ago and I do not imagine any respite from this situation soon. Young learners are going to need sustained encouragement from their families at home, and a parent’s support or denial of technology is crucial in establishing a balanced and happy home.
As a teacher, I am an ardent fan of technology. I pride myself on infusing new and stimulating tech tools into my virtual lessons which attract my learners and builds an eagerness to come back again the next day. I can see how they have not only adapted to technology but flourished while using it. This is a clear indicator that technology should be our greatest friend rather than foe. We have harnessed the power of technology to ensure that learning carries on in uncertain times. The hours that they spend in front of the screen studying cannot be forgone or considered unrequired.
Screen time at home apart from school hours is another dimension that requires moderation by parents or immediate caregivers. These regulations can be in the form of the kind of activities they dig into in their spare time as well as the amount of time spent pursuing these endeavours. Our children must understand that technology, though an intrinsic part of our lives, is a privilege. While we as adults need technology and electronic devices to organize our lives and function efficiently, children do not. It is this realization and reflection that makes children push back and rebel to gain more time with their precious devices.
I have discovered this quote to be relevant to several situations in life, be it politics or relationships. When it comes to screen time, parents can wield tyrannical power and authority over their children which pushes them to rebel. On the other hand, if a child holds complete power of the situation with no consequences from a parent, discipline breaks down.
As it is mostly online gaming that has children fixated, the content needs to be closely monitored by parents. Screen time will probably increase as we are in lockdown, however, parents should always let their children know that time on a device is a reward for good behaviour rather than a part of the routine. Parental controls ensure that your child sticks to the limit given at the beginning of the day and this threshold could always be increased after monitoring the amount of homework completed, chores done etc. Conversely, if a child does not accomplish the essential tasks set for the day, they can be made to ‘take a break’ from the device to guarantee that they learn priorities. Work first, play later! These rules foster the lifelong learning of working hard and reaping well-deserved rewards. Always remember, if there are no penalties, a child will have no desire to follow your rules, so be ready to face the music for a while until your child understands that there is no way out until he becomes responsible for his actions.
Once on the same page, young ones swiftly learn that rather than autonomy, there is a give and take situation that benefits all parties. They learn to make mature decisions and can still enjoy the perks of screen time while keeping their parents happy.
Screen time is here to stay and should not be feared. Our children discover so much from games and online apps, from using mental strategies to honing their fine motor skills. The future generation is moving towards complete automatization and we should encourage them to understand and use technology to their advantage. I watched my son in nursery struggling to write letters in the correct zones in his English notebook while my husband scoffed and asked when I had last hand-written anything. I honestly could not remember. While I am not negating that writing is an indispensable skill, once children fly away from their homes and into the real world, they will need to rely on technology to get them through tough times. Whether that entails making artistic presentations to navigating excel sheets, the sky is the limit.
As an educator, I realize that the children whose parents utterly curtail technology are constantly struggling with their workload and are not able to operate independently. Those who strike a comfortable balance between technology and family time fare better. Keeping the pros and cons in mind, set a balance that keeps everyone happy and healthy. One households’ standards of acceptable screen time may differ from another. A Chinese proverb propounds, “Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in another time.” This proverb should guide us to a path that allows us to move towards the future alongside our young ones rather than holding them back.