Screen Time – How much is OK?



Can screen time be a part of homeschooling?

As our interaction with new homeschoolers increase, we get asked a lot of questions about how we’re going about raising our daughter Aarohi. We’ve already shared two of those exchanges in our earlier articles – An Introduction to new Homeschoolers and Great Lessons in Parenting – 5th Lesson. Recently Aastha inquired about how much time do we allow Aarohi to watch the screen, whether on TV or tablet or phone? Well, the general approach we take with Aarohi is that we do not tell her what to do and what not to do. We do not force her to do something she doesn’t want to do as well as we do not stop her from doing something she does want to do. This actually puts us in a unique position as we all know, if not checked, kids will watch the idiot box for as long as they are awake. This can ultimately be harmful to them in a number of ways. So, how do we maintain our philosophy as well as protect her from harming herself?

Aastha’s mail:

Screen time (there’s a big debate about how much is OK, if at all) what is your take on it?

Our Reply:

The question you asked about Screen time is a tricky one. We are not at all against Aarohi’s usage of TV, iPad, iPhone etc. In fact, Snehal and I are a little divided about the amount of usage. But we do agree on the fact that we surely want her to be exposed to all the technology around her. There is a lot of learning that she does from online games, websites, apps etc. This is something that Snehal and I discussed when Aarohi was very young. When would be a good time to give her access to all the technology we have at home and we came to the conclusion – as early as possible. In fact, we let it happen naturally and she picked up everything quite early. So, once she would show interest in something we would go ahead and teach her how to use it and then it would be up to her to decide how long she wanted to use it. This is similar to every other thing that we do in unschooling.
We, of course, took a specific route to introducing her to what she saw on the screen. This does take a lot of participation from us as parents. We decided to introduce her first to the Disney’s Silly Symphonies. These are a bunch of Disney Short films (around 42) that were created before the first feature film ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs‘ that came out in 1937. These shorts are very entertaining and are based on a musical backdrop. Once those got over, we started showing her the 2D Animated Disney Feature Films. While this was going on we introduced the Warner Brothers Cartoons like, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety & Sylvester, Snoopy the Dog etc. These cartoons are a little bit more aggressive and action-oriented and led to the Looney Tunes. Then finally we started showing her Pixar and Dreamworks 3D Animated Cartoons. The latest in that is the live-action remake of her favorite Disney movies like Jungle Book, Cinderella, Maleficent and the upcoming Beauty and the Beast. These we catch at the theaters. There are a lot of episodic cartoons on E-Junior also that Aarohi loves watching (too many to name here). Recently she started getting interested in SuperHero cartoons. As I explained in one of our earlier articles. Alongside we also introduced her to games on the iPad, like Minion Rush, Treasure Hunt, Princess Dressup, Baby Hazel, Dora the Adventurer etc. All these come together to achieve entertainment as well as education for her.
I know these sound a lot but they are spread over a period of 6 years. I’ve only spoken about the pros of all this screen time till now. Talking about the cons is as important. A long duration of time spent glued to the tele is obviously not good for her eyes and it also makes her lazy. Also sitting with the iPad in a bad posture is not good for her back and can lead to Spondylitis. The most important thing to keep in mind is to have a plan ready to get her off the screen before we introduce her to all the entertainment on it. One advantage we have as homeschoolers is that we have some or the other outdoor physical activity every other day. So, most of the times Snehal and Aarohi are not at home. The challenge is how to control it while we are at home for long durations. Well, we don’t stop her from starting to watch TV or use the iPad when we’re at home. If she wants to she can anytime.

One advantage we have as homeschoolers is that we have some or the other outdoor physical activity every other day.

The problem starts when she’s not ready to get off it in a couple of hours. This can be a real difficult task as it leads to tantrums and crying without consolation. After a number of failed attempts, we found one solution that has worked for us. Snehal and I start some or the other activity in front of her. Say, we start playing Scrabble or Snakes and Ladder or Cards or I start Painting or we start building a Jigsaw Puzzle. This usually takes her interest away from whatever she’s doing and soon enough she joins us in what we are doing. So, the trick is to distract her away from the screen. This way she doesn’t end up feeling that we forced her to switch it off and we are able to take her off it without creating an unpleasant scene. Just to be clear this doesn’t work all the time. Our final solution is to go out of the house to a park or Fun City or just visit a Mall. So, Snehal and I start getting ready and tell her that mommy and daddy are going out and would she like to join us or stay alone at home? She obviously joins us. There are times that even this is not possible as Snehal doesn’t drive yet and I am only home in the evenings and weekends. In those cases distracting her is the only solution. Another one of the ways to get her off the screen is food. We always eat our meals at the dining table. This is an advice we got from one of Aarohi’s Pediatricians. She told us that if children eat food while watching TV then the mind is busy with what’s going on on the screen and doesn’t send the signal to the stomach. This leads to indigestion and an upset stomach. So as a habit she has to get off the couch and come to the dining table when it’s time for a meal.
Those are my two bits. There is no one foolproof way of achieving this, but I do believe that instead of keeping them away from the screen, we have to find a way to distract them from it before it becomes too much. A minor disclaimer would be that although this worked for Aarohi, it might not work at all or might even backfire in the case of any other child. So, if you like the idea please do try it but don’t get disappointed if it doesn’t work.