Screen time for kids in lockdown: An expert answers parents’ questions

'There is well-documented data that suggests that a child who sits in front of the screen has delayed development in speech and language.' However, in times of lockdown, there is one positive news for families — video calling is not part of the stipulated screen time.

The lockdown has brought many changes; work from home has become the new norm and parenting styles have changed. Outdoor activities have reduced and children are now spending more time at home, away from school and their friends. In this period of adjustment, parents have scrambled for resources to keep their children busy and engaged. As such, there has been more dependency on technology than ever before.

But when it comes to staying online and staying connected, how much time should be allotted to kids? Are they even supposed to spend time with gadgets? And in these unprecedented times, when schools have started their curriculum online, can screen time be totally avoided or limited? These and many other such questions were recently answered by Dr Puja Grover Kapoor, Paediatric Neurologist, Continua Kids during a Facebook Live with Express Parenting.

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“Let’s go to the pre-COVID era. Guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics say that for children less than two years, not even a minute of screen time is allowed. For pre-schoolers that is two to five years of age, they say only one hour of screen time, along with the parents. For kids above five years of age, it is an individual thing. This was before-COVID era. When there were regular schools, playgrounds and malls. In this period of lockdown, the schools have become online, and the only source of entertainment has become screen time now,” she says. However, in times of lockdown, there is one positive news for families — video calling is not part of the stipulated screen time.

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How can parents mitigate the screen time?

Dr Kapoor says when children watch the television, or are using the gadgets, there is no stimulation of the brain, as opposed to when their parents are telling them stories and they are totally captured and allowing their brain to conjure up images.

“It has been found that all those children who read, or whose parents read and talk to them, have higher cognitive and thinking skills, as compared to a child who has just been allowed screen time during the development phase of the brain,” she explains.

Dr Kapoor goes on to say that there is well-documented data that suggests that a child who sits in front of the screen, has delayed development in speech and language. She says sometimes children do not like the content and swipe the screen to change it. “If you look closely, this practice of swiping the fingers on the screen, comes in real scenarios too. Sometimes, children swipe in the air if they want to get rid of a situation. And when they are not able to alter the situation with a swipe of a finger, they show behavioural concerns. Temper tantrums come in.”

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And what about teenagers?

One of the key concerns is obesity, because children sit and binge-watch content, and eat like that, too. Dr Kapoor warns that diabetes and hypertension also come in at an early age. Add to that, some psychological concerns because of the content they view on the internet, which they should not be seeing at that age.

“When you are stuck to the screen, your blinking capacity also goes down, leading to irritation of the eyes, dryness, headaches, and refractive errors. This is what screen time does to a child,” she says.

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But, in these times, can parents stop screen time altogether?

Dr Kapoor says they can think about mitigating the time. “Be a role model for the child. If you are reading a book, your child will also start reading. Set up a common screen time. Select a content that everybody enjoys and that way you can share and discuss the emotional topics, and there will be a communication. You can always set up alarms and restrict screen time. Set up timings when you do not want screen time — like meal hours. You can also have blue filters on your mobile phones and laptops,” she suggests.

Bottom line

Dr Kapoor advises parents come up with other activities for their child so that they spend less time with gadgets. They can paint and draw, or help parents set up the dinner table. She advises parents to not lose their temper, because “children know that if they annoy their mother and ask for the mobile phone for the sixth time, she will just pick it up and give it”. “Be stern, smart and rigid about what you have said,” she recommends.

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