Screen time for kids: How much is too much?
Crisp shirt and trousers? Check. Polished shoes? Check. But instead of the distant sound of the school bus, it’s the phone that rings. Over the last three months, the nationwide lockdown imposed following the coronavirus scare has made schools take the online route to help students continue with their education. Children, as young as four years, have now gotten into the groove of interacting with their teachers and classmates via video conference – a change that arose out of necessity. And parents are concerned it’s affecting their eyesight, above all else.
What helped Delhi resident Priyanka Singh was to regulate screen time of her son. “After the lockdown was imposed, children were not going out and thus, had been using mobiles to play games. Once the classes started, this added to the exposure. So, accordingly, I restricted Arav’s screen time by fixing time for both games and studies. It is certain that it will affect the eyesight. More importantly, continuous use of mobile phone will increase their dependence on it, so we need to work out a solution to minimise exposure to electronic gadgets, as it can have negative effects as well,” she shares.
With increasing concerns over screen time among parents, Dr PS Narang, a Delhi-based paediatrician with around 40 years of experience, feels productivity is what should be given priority, and not screen exposure per se. “Excess of everything is bad. But a parent must understand the difference between screen exposure for playing games and exposure for social interaction, be it during online classes or with the child’s grandparents or cousins. Even when it comes to games, there are many that are informative. Those are fine, but games that promote violence should not be encouraged. These can lead to loss of sleep or even cause bad dreams. Also, getting your child into a routine is necessary. If the child is used to waking up at 7am and getting ready, it is important to maintain that, rather than waking up the child just five minutes before classes begin,” he recommends.
Dr Prashaant Chaudhry, a senior ophthalmologist based in Delhi, recommends following the 20-20-20 rule for children. He also suggests casting the screen on a TV or desktop, so that a distance can be maintained, when compared to a mobile phone. “It is important to have a well-lit room as well as a good posture. Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and focus on something at least 20 feet away. Also, consciously you will have to blink more. Usually, we blink around 15 times in a minute, but when we stare at a screen, we blink only six times. This dries out the eyes, especially in the summer, and that causes strain on the eyes,” he says, adding that it is important to expose kids to some natural light as well. “Children should be kept engaged with board games, blocks etc, so that screen time is reduced. Also, given in the present scenario, kids cannot go out. However, they can always go to the balcony. You can encourage them to gaze at sky, birds or any other activity, so that they are exposed to some distant viewing. This negates the effect of indoor work.”
It is indisputable that given a choice, parents would always prefer conventional methods of learning for their kids. However, at this point in time, safety is key. “Parents’ main concern is how can their child continue learning and not miss on the school year, whilst staying safe. Online classes are the only way a child can continue the learning process,” says Ranjini Chalam, a Delhi-based PR professional, who also feels parents must, on their part, monitor screen time beyond these classes.
Delhi-based banker Poojanjali Shukla echoes a similar view. Her daughter, 5, does miss interacting with friends. “This is a challenging time for us, but it is also stressful for our kids. My daughter attended online classes for almost one-and-a-half months. Initially, there was a break of only 10 minutes between classes, but later on, that was increased to half an hour. This way, the strain on their eyes reduced. We have to engage our kids in a constructive manner. She was able to see her friends and teachers, and she enjoyed the activities that were organised as well.”
However, Meenal Sehgal is of the view that children should try and learn through natural and traditional methods as much as possible. As a teacher who is conducting online classes herself and a mother of kids attending such classes, Sehgal feels schools should rely more on worksheets and hand-outs. “Children below 12 years need to be exposed to as much natural environment as possible for their education, learning and development. Exposing them to computerised learning and education often leads them to become insensitive to humanity and may instill indifference to environment. The strain on the eyes and mind is often detrimental, and leads to chances of abnormalities in sight, behavior and response mechanism. With too much virtual exposure, the child is always in an irritable mood, and complains of headaches, eye pain etc.”
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