Are our kids living more in the virtual world than the real one?
How many hours a day should kids spend in front of a screen? This has been a hotly debated topic ever since televisions became a common household item. Now every device which has a screen can not only cause eye strain but also other physical and mental health issues. Excessive use of phones can lead to text neck, using a mouse too much can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, poor posture which using a laptop can cause back pain and so on. Plus, the biggest worry is the nature or quality of content that kids consume on these devices. Despite parental controls, restrictions based on age, trackers to monitor the kind of activity, there is constant worry about inappropriate content and contact with strangers online and the kind of games and life threatening challenges that crop up online.
And if all this was a big concern before the global pandemic, which led to lockdowns and a socially distant lifestyle, it has only worsened now. You might have been compelled to change a good many of the pre-lockdown habits like keeping work and home separate. You might realise the extent of the communication gap that exists between you and your child when you are with them 24 X 7. You might not be able to follow the same home rules that you were doing earlier when the kids had school to attend, extra curricular activities and outside play time.
Parents who didn’t allow children to access devices like smartphones and tablets now freely allow them to so they can attend online classes or stay connected with friends. The quality of content can no longer be constantly monitored as the viewing hours have increased. “What else to do?” has become a common refrain as we are all cooped up inside our homes, stepping out only when needed.
The Education Ministry has recommended the number of hours of online schooling for different age groups but many kids are glued to the devices way longer than that. What should parents do in such a situation?
Pooja Shashi Gupta, Child Counselor, acknowledges these concerns and feels that the kind of content kids consume or games they play is secondary. The fact of the matter is that it may not be possible to take these devices away from kids. While it may not be an ideal situation, she says, “One may not be able to console the kids after keeping away these devices and it may lead to negativity as the kids might think that they are being punished especially when it is not their fault.”
Here’s what she recommends you try for coping with this new situation:
- Model the behaviour you would like them to emulate: Bring discipline in your own life. If parents are going to be stressed and lost in their Facebook and Instagram, they will pass on the same to their kids.
- Accept the situation: Working parents who struggle with working from home may find it difficult to manage small kids. The kids may be disturbing or not let them work. These things may happen, but it is important to accept the situation. If you get stressed about it then it may pass on to the kids. But, you need to continue working and earn an income. At the same time parents to prioritise and pass on the same habits to their kids.
- Involve kids in the activities that you expect them to do This is a situation you need to make the most of the opportunity. It is going to be more challenging even after the lockdown eases. Give them exposure to a daily routine, make them contribute to household chores and encourage them to do pranayama and meditation. They will not do these things if you just tell them to do it. If you are connected with them emotionally and have the right atmosphere at home then they are more likely to be involved.
- Realise that switching from online games to online coding class may not be the solution: Spending money on different classes is not going to make them ready for the future. Enrolling kids in what is perceived as a more productive use of their time is just swapping one online activity for another. The skills they acquire online may or may not be relevant in the future. There was a time when everyone rushed to do an MBA. So it is necessary to teach them to be independent by being more responsible for their life. They need to be able to handle their own chores and participate in the duties of the household.
In a nutshell: If you want to raise an independent child who is sensitive to the needs of the family, then is a good time to practice these life skills with them and to set an example that they would want to follow.
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