A friend’s five-year-old son refuses to eat or do his school-work unless she hands him a smartphone. Whose fault? Well, we are not here for a blame game, but let’s try to find a solution to this viral problem. First thing’s first, let’s be realistic and accept that technology is re-defining our lives. It is important for a child to have an aptitude for technology. Another thing we need to accept is that being born around gadgets, children are getting addicted faster. The question is: “How to ensure we don’t raise a screen-slave at home?” I spoke to many parents and experts to draw out some conclusions to help us ascertain we are not raising one!
“First of all restrict the use of your own gadget in front of them. Someone is watching even if I am not acting; he follows what I do, not what I say. That someone is my child,” asserts Aalok Sharma, a merchant navy officer currently working in Hong Kong.
1. Gadgets cannot work as babysitters
Don’t expect gadgets to substitute your presence. It’s fair that with both parents working, paying attention to your child at all times can be difficult. You might not have as much time to devote to your child as you would like. But, remember that nothing can replace the presence of a parent. And if it does or has, it must raise an alarm.
Aviation Engineer Sherpal Singh from Goa, India tells me, “Rather than a ‘Gadget Bar’ we need a ‘Relationship-Academy’ at home. Understand your child’s needs and build your relationship around it; it is the only way out.”
“If I chose to be a parent, why outsource my child to technology? We have to build a bond beyond gadgets,” says Abhimanyu Pratap Singh, media entrepreneur and father to a three -year-old girl.
I agree. My neighbour’s seven-year-old daughter doesn’t hunt for gadgets when her software engineer mother and banker father are at work. She is either doing her homework, engaged in crafts, or taking a siesta to stay fresh.
2. Involve children in arts & craft
Child psychologist Ridhima Nair Paul writes to me from Canada, “Colours and crafts open out a new world to children–a world of imagination, a world of creativity, a world of dreams, a world of goals beyond mundane life. Rather than feeding your kid by handing over a smartphone, make her hold a crayon & paper and draw the food she is eating.”
3. Encourage outdoor activities
Let’s stop making excuses about not having enough outdoor space. Even gardening or tending to potted plants (which we all have) is an outdoor activity. A child racing in the lawn, feeding the birds and breathing in nature is likely to enjoy better mental stimulation than one hooked to a gadget.
Rashpal Dasgotra–father to a son and a daughter–both below the age of 10 says, “I engage them in channelizing their energy in physical as well as mental exercises. And for this I take them to play outdoors; to travel with me as often as possible. We visit farms and explore places of interest. I gift them sports gears rather than a new gadget. Eventually, the screen will come into their lives. So why now?” Rashpal is a senior journalist with Korean TV’s India bureau in New Delhi. He is mostly busy on outdoor shoots but finds time to do this.
4. Encourage personal visits over media chats
Remember, how as kids we used to visit our friends to enjoy group study or to play outdoors? Then why are our children restricted to a social media messenger to exchange the same warmth? Think about it. “Man is a social animal. And we are our ourselves deviating our children from the same fact,” says Thomas N Sean, a psychiatrist from Italy.
5. Introduce them to good literature
Aalok’s wife Suveera Sharma shuttles between India and Hong Kong, balancing life between her husband and in-laws staying in India. Hong Kong is a far more technically-developed city than Indian metropolises. Yet, she doesn’t believe in handing over a gadget to her teenage daughter. Instead, she keeps her free to read books and novels. She also prefers to see her son play outdoors.
6. Don’t be a spy, be a cautious caretaker
Psychologist David Thompson from Sydney writes to me, “If your child is already an addict to a gadget, it will take time, patience and love to get him/her out of that zone. Firstly, restrict the use at your end. And then teach the child harms of excessive use, rather than scolding him/her, snatching away the gadget etc.” (sic).
All of the above are some great tips that parents and psychologists follow to ensure children are not addicted to technology. Shobha Rana Grover, mother to a tiny tot and an NRI in Germany sums up everyone’s dilemma well: “Parenting has no set of rules. But it is a dynamic subject like Science, which can be handled best with a little guidance from experts.”
Mahima Sharma, Columnist TechThirsty
Author is former News Editor CNN-News18 & ANI (a collaboration with Reuters)