Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Cutting down on screen time

(Img via Gary Varvel)

Like any parent of my generation, I rely heavily on modern technology like smartphones and tablets in our daily life. And as parents, it really helps babysit the kids. Parents of my generation often wonder - how did our parents do it? When there were no iPhones and iPads to keep the kids entertained? But I often wondered, how much is too much?

We hit our breaking point recently with the screen time in our household and collectively decided to cut it down completely and it has really made a difference in our daily lives.

I love modern technology...but I also hate it. I love that you have so much information at your fingertips. Weather, directions, movie timings, email, messaging...you can do so much in a short amount of time. But I also find it addicting and distracting. It's so easy to open your phone to check one thing and then all of a sudden you've wasted an hour. As I creative person, I find it too overstimulating and it pulls away from my natural thoughts. All of a sudden I'm too busy checking things, rather than sitting in stillness and daydreaming, or making observations about the present moment.

Coming into parenthood, it has been much easier to get sucked in to technology. Like, let me take this picture of my kid...and now I have to upload it to Instagram and send it to this family member and that family member! It's worse when you have a very active child. Maya WILL NOT and NEVER HAS been able to sit still. Ever. Never ever. Which is fine - I embrace the chaos that I have been blessed with an active child. Except mealtimes have always been difficult when your little one won't just sit down and eat. It has always driven me crazy. I noticed this when we started feeding her solids and she started being mobile. We literally had to strap her in to her high chair and she would scream to be let down to run around. After she figured out how to get out of her high chair, we would then have to chase her around the house with a spoon of food. Or grab her and hold her down as she tried to slip away like a wriggly octopus. Try doing that 3+ times a day!!! When I realized that she was interested in cartoons, and that it held her attention span for a good 20 minutes - I thought, I need to use these cartoons for her mealtimes! Wouldn't it be easier? Watching TV during a meal was the only thing that would make her sit and eat properly. And then it became a habit - a bad habit. It continued on from mealtimes to a little bit after mealtimes so that I could relax for a few minutes. And then I put on Netflix for her so I could take a shower. Netflix was like the daily babysitter that I never had. 

Then, I got pregnant again and I got tired. We had another baby. Along the way, I noticed that Maya was developing an unhealthy addiction to Netflix. As in, she would demand to watch it at every waking moment (when she wasn't in school), OR you'd have to play WITH her. She wanted to be CONSTANTLY entertained. She wasn't able to play by herself, especially since Pati and Thatha arrived. And they also were not able to say no to her. She didn't want to play with any of her toys, she just wanted to watch TV. I noticed that when we would switch it on at mealtimes that it wasn't even helping her eat better. She would just stare at the show like a zombie and not eat her dinner.

I thought, where is her imagination? We didn't have iPad's growing up. There was no Netflix to keep us entertained. No adult ever played with me. There's no reason why these kids can't entertain themselves. And no, they don't need it with meals. I realized this after she started eating lunch at school - she doesn't need the iPad at school to eat, so why should she need it at home? I really wanted to nip it in the bud while she was still young. There's only so much I can control now before she gets to be a teenager and doesn't listen to me at all. I want her to have a happy childhood that's not filled with memories of just sitting in front of the TV.

Husband-ji and I decided to completely cut out screen time, as an experiment to see if it would improve anything. We started it one day after she had a big day at school. She came home and wanted to watch Netflix, and I bluntly said that the iPad was broken. She fussed about it for a minute and then forgot about it and we went on to have a nice dinner at home. After dinner, she played by herself for a few hours and then we all went to bed. I was amazed that she played by herself. Almost immediately we noticed a difference. The next day, she wanted to watch it with breakfast. Again, I said the iPad was broken. She fussed about it, then she ate breakfast, and then she played by herself until it was time to go to school. And it was much more peaceful around the house from then onward. We were all present, we were more connected, we had nice conversations, and Maya played by herself and we enjoyed watching her. I thought it would be much harder for her to adjust, but I keep forgetting that children are so adaptable!

We also made an agreement to put away our phones as well. Now, we only watch Netflix on the iPad or seriously check our phones when the kids are sleeping. We can't ban screen time for her and not do the same for us - it needed to be a house rule.

As an intermediary step, I went to the library with Maya and we rented out two children's movies to watch - but only for the weekends. One for Saturday, and one for Sunday. And that we would sit down and watch it together and chat about it after. And once the movie was over, it was over - and we'd return it to the library. No constant streaming of shows, back to back. We also agreed to only rely on the iPad in an emergency/special circumstance - like if we had to travel on the airplane.

I'm not completely opposed to screen time - but everything has to be done in moderation. Maybe one day we'll re-introduce it - but with better limits. The reason why our daughter got addicted to it was because we failed setting those healthy limits. But for now, cutting down on screen time has made such an improvement in both our home life and our daughter. Now Maya plays by herself, or she sits still, or she daydreams, or she colors, or she looks out the window at our busy street. I love seeing this other side of her and I realized, yes - she can sit still, if I let her.

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How about you, dear readers?
Do you limit your screen time?
Do you find Netflix addicting?

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5 comments

  1. This topic comes up a lot these days for both adults and children. I'm on the computer all day at work, then go home to the TV or Netflix, it's terrible!

    I think you (+ your husband) and Maya all handled this really well. You set a good example and she adjusted pretty easily. I know someone who decided to not have a TV in the house at all after her child was born. But of course youtube cartoons on the phone are used for meal times, it seems everyone goes through that bribery phase!

    Unfortunately, at least in america, playing outside with neighborhood friends just isn't safe anymore, but I certainly remember playing with toys, barbies, etc on my own while growing up. And you've mentioned Maya is an avid reader so she could definitely do that on her own. Glad you nipped it in the bud and Veda will follow all of your healthy examples :)

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  2. We have absolutely limited, and keep on limiting, Brinda's screen time. She watches two recorded commercial-free 20-mins shows, one in the morning and one in the afternoon/evening every day, on the TV where she is just focusing on watching it. That's it. There's no watching cartoons on the tablet or the phone. Though sometimes we'll let her watch a short and cute animal/baby video that pops up in our FB feed from time to time. Also, we as parents do not watch any TV while she's awake, except for live sporting events, which she is allowed to watch with us (except for the commercials, which we mute and then not look at!).

    As for meals, they are strictly at the dining table with all 3 of us eating together. There are special events, such as the afore-mentioned sporting events, which are once in a while exception to the rule, when all of us sit on the couch in front of the TV and have a "picnic".

    We as parents have believe in the adage that kids will eat when they are hungry :) Running after her with food has always been a no-no.

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  4. It's great to here about the success story on screen time. Bc I believe in Kids learn from adults and it's psychological impact on young brains, would you please share opinion on Consumption of alchohol at home. While it's very common in west to consume alchohol for dinners, does it affect childern one way or other ? Thanks

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  5. The short answer to whether adults consuming alcohol in a responsible way affects children? No, I don't think it does.

    Note the word "responsible" in the paragraph above. A lot of Indians believe that the only logical end to consuming alcohol is to get drunk. That is not the case in most families here in the US (not saying there aren't outliers, but very few in my experience, in the general socio-economic strata of families that I know of - middle class, educated).

    Drinking is a social event, at par with having food. It is very common for parents to have a drink or two at dinner while kids drink beverages appropriate for their age level - water, milk, juice, soda/pop/"cold drink" (horror! but that deserves it own post). Children know that the drink their parents are drinking are not meant for them.

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