There was a whole generation of babies that was raised on screens. Screens while they ate, dozed off and played. Then came a time when it was uncool to shove a screen in front of a baby. Zero screen time was the order given. Research papers proved how screen time was damaging not just our children’s eyes but their brains too. But is a zero screen time feasible at all in a world which is becoming increasingly online? Does it not put immense pressure on the parent to “entertain” their child themselves without relying on technology? Is it really a positive thing to do in a world where technology is everywhere? What happens when the parent needs a break badly.. even if it is just to have a quick shower? Is it bad to rely on technology then?
What is the zero screen time rule?
Experts suggest that for babies between 0 to 18 months of age, there be no exposure to screens at all. This means no mobile or Tablets – no rhymes on YouTube, no TV and no computer screens. However the guidelines wave a green flag to video calling with family – a regular characteristic of most families with family spread across the globe.
For children aged 18 months to 2 years, the guidelines are more open to very limited screen time. They also stipulate that screen time must include media that has been made for young children and that you, the parent must watch it together too.
Kids aged between 2 to 5 years can watch screens for about an hour everyday. Ideally the content should be specially created for children and parents must join in too.
These guidelines may sound extreme but then rules and guidelines are meant to sound rigid and strict in principle don’t they? It is acceptable that families make these work as best as they can for their households.
What did we do with babyT and screen time?
We did not want our child’s face to be buried in a screen. Damage to the eyes runs freely in the children in our environment and we did not want that for our baby. So we did decide to avoid screens completely. He did video call with his family and grandparents often, as they were based in other countries. But even then the exposure as a baby was very limited.
We live in a nuclear setup and most days I am also solo-parenting. So once babyT was old enough to crawl around and sleep less, I really did feel the need to engage him while I performed some of my personal and daily home routines. I still did not resort to him watching a screen until he was over a year old. Somewhere there I started him on rhymes, program about animals and birds by National Geographic.
Wherever possible I supplemented the stuff he watched on TV by showing it to him in a book or flash cards too. But made sure that it was a documentary or else an animation free program. He still does not watch any mainstream cartoons. He has not yet been to a movie theatre to watch a movie – we have not stepped foot into a theatre since we became parents too.
Today at 2 years plus, babyT watches programs on YouTube that show him real life videos of things that interest him – such as fire engines responding to a rescue call or rhymes or songs by Bob Marley. He also likes animated videos where kids can learn about colours, shapes and vehicles. I make sure he does not watch anything which has bright flashing graphics or brain numbing effects (read: most Bollywood songs these days.)
One thing which has been mostly consistent with us till today is that we do not watch videos in bed or while eating food. This came so naturally to some of the other people in our family that they would first put the television on and then fill up his plate of food. It took some effort to discourage the habit, but they are happy that babyT enjoys his meals and eats without external distractions.
Also I made sure I was mostly around when the screen was on… I kept explaining what he saw online and then even referred back to the screen when we saw a real object which we had seen on a show.
Zero screen time vs. Mommy’s sanity
Many mom friends I know (and me too) have given up their 9 to 5 careers to spend time raising a child. They also are bloggers or work from home. Their husbands are busy with work or travel extensively. Most of these moms therefore solo-parent. Their extended families are either based in other cities or if they are around, can come in and contribute only sometimes when there is a need. Grandparents have their own lives and engagements. Even though some of these households can afford to hire a nanny or other household staff, the primary responsibility for the baby/ toddler lies with the mother. At such times the screen is a much needed sanity saving tool.
Mothers do use the screen to keep their children engaged and safe while they indulge in a flash shower or that important phone call or cooking. Our own daily drill is wake up and do the breakfast, baby bath and dress up and then I play a video that babyT wants to watch, while I go have a shower and get ready before we head to school.
Zero screen time is great to follow, but its ok to give in once in a while. While it is good to monitor time, it makes more sense to monitor the content. Checking for age-appropriateness, graphic content and language will go a longer way in ensuring children are not exposed to something they are not ready for. Bollywood movies tops the list of not permissible.
If you do indulge in screen time with your young children, you can follow certain broad guidelines.
Say yes to content which promotes early learning. This includes documentaries, informative programs about the world around us, programs which occasionally ask the child to repeat a word, sing a song or identify a number.
Relate what the child saw on the screen to what exists in the real world. A frequent sight when we are out on the roads in Mumbai is the ambulance or construction vehicles and I point them out to babyT and remind him of the time the ambulance rushed to help Ms Polly’s parrot or the digger which helped Jack the farmer build a new watering hole for his animals.
Watch programs together. This makes it a lovely opportunity to spend time together (read – Hygge) and helps the children make sense of what they see. They can ask questions. Parents can fast forward (hehe)
Strictly no screens before and in bed. Building healthy and natural sleep patterns is essential to children’s brain development and growth. Going to bed with a wired brain is harmful not just for children but for adults too. So keep the devices off and away at least an hour before bedtime.
Here is a very interesting read about a bunch of doctors and researchers who also have young children and here’s what they do about screen time. Read this article here.
Sounds like your average family doesn’t it? Don’t beat yourself about zero screen time. While it is certainly a good practice to follow, if it means you will end up a frustrated and messy, smelly (no bath time) mommy then there is no point at all, is there?