It was 1985. I was making mud pies and flying kites. Madonna’s ‘Like A Virgin’ was number one on the charts and that was also the time when I played my first computer game. Donkey Kong on the Game & Watch was my first introduction to technology and I LOVED IT!!!
How times have changed. Don’t get me wrong, media and computer devices are beneficial for children if used correctly. It can contribute positively to their development and education as long as it’s monitored and boundaries are set during the early days. But there are also the downsides; computer games and the internet are highly stimulating making them very addictive especially to children.
According to a survey taken in 2015 by ao.com, one thousand British mothers of children aged 2 to 12 found that 85 percent of mums admit to using technology to keep the kids occupied while they get on with other activities. The survey also pointed out that children spend on average around 17 hours a week in front of a screen – almost double the 8.8 weekly hours spent playing outside.
Over the years, video games and computers have integrated seamlessly into our lives and it will continue to do so. My husband and I both run our businesses online and between us, we own at least eight computers not mentioning additional hand-held devices.
For this reason, as parents, we don’t have the right to tell the kids ‘Do as we say not as we do’ when they see us spend so much time online. They have been used to computers and tablets around the house since they were knee high so restricting them for these will only cause more arguments and of course, anything that is forbidden will only ignite their curiosity even more.
As technology advances and the availability of computers, phones and tablets in our household increases, this is a good time to change our way of parenting to the 21st century. I know it’s a lot better growing up in the 80’s and 90’s and we can reminisce about the good old days on how we didn’t have all these things but our childhood was more than sufficient. But this is now, and that was then.
It took me a while to undo the bad habits that my youngest child have gotten used to over the years. I should have been a lot more firm and vigilant when it came to iPad and computer time. But I have opted for the easy option which is not always a good thing in the long run.
With discipline and firm rules, I have at least set some boundaries, so far it’s working for us. Here are some of the things that I have implemented in our household, to make sure that my child has equal time between, school work, play and screen time.
1. Set expectations while they’re young
Parents are guilty of using electronic devices as a way to occupy their children while they did things around the house. I’ve done it with my youngest child, and wish I didn’t fell in the trap! Back in the days before iPads and smartphones, mothers let their children just ‘get on with it’ and make their own fun.
Remember that children only get used to things you allow them to. Try and avoid whipping out the iPad to keep them quiet, instead, suggest reading, playing with their favourite toys or do some arts and crafts. It’s beneficial for children to get bored once in a while, as it increases their imagination and creativity.
2. Build Good Habits
Set limits, stick with them and try not to depend on electronic devices on a daily basis for the sake of half an hour of peace and quiet. It is easier said than done, I know! But if your child gets used to using an electronic device from an early age it’s an expectation that they will always have every time they get bored. There is no time for any imaginative and creative play, it’s an instant stimulant that they will depend on as they grow.
3. Compromise & Set Time Limits
Find out what kind of games and online activities they like. Reach an agreement where both parties are happy with the time spent on tablets or computers. Depending on their ages they will probably point out different reasons or excuses why they should spend such time on a game. Find a middle ground that is reasonable for both of you.
I have been using Qustodio to set time limits for my sons iPad and computer use. For the past two years, it has worked for us. Not only that it lets you control your child’s screen time it also has a lot more features that allow you to keep an eye on your child’s online use and activity.
4. Set Guidelines
Be clear on what is important. In our home, it’s homework and chores before anything else. If these things aren’t done then privileges are on hold. My 8-year-old is not allowed on the tablet as soon as he gets home from school unless it’s Friday. He knows that homework takes importance and need to be done before he can ‘chill out’. Or else trying to prise my child off his device when he’s in the ‘zone’ can prove difficult and sometimes can also lead to arguments.
5. Encourage a similar alternative
My 8-year-old is obsessed with Minecraft! I must admit he does build some bad ass cities and buildings. But he also loves Lego. I had a situation one time when I asked him to come off the tablet and he sat sulking and complaining that he was bored and nothing to do.
I pointed out that he had Lego and it’s very similar to Minecraft! If he wants, he can also create his city using Lego! At first, he wasn’t too convinced, but with a little persistence and help from us, he made some of his Minecraft creations using Lego. Now, when his screen time is up, he always has that to play with.
6. Introduce your child to another hobby
I believe that it’s important for a child to have some kind of hobby away from home. Whether it would be football, dance or anything else that they enjoy to do independently. It’s easy nowadays to have tablets and computer to replace free time. But we all know that outdoor time is also as equally important and it allows their minds to be creative and to think about something else apart from games or spending hours on their devices.
Kids need an outlet where their minds can expand and not rely on ready made stimulants. My son has been taking drumming lessons for 2 years now. It’s a great way for him to let out his frustrations and more importantly strengthen a natural talent which wouldn’t have been possible if spent most of his time online.
7. Set an example
How many times have you checked on your phone while your child is talking to you? Or check your social media while sitting with them? I have been guilty of ALL of these situations. It’s important to be self- aware and set good habits so that they respect your rules and boundaries.
So, what do you do when it comes to disciplining your child when it comes to screen time? Are your children glued to their mobiles and tablets? How do you tackle the situation? Have you set some rules that work? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.