By Dr. Farah Akram.
What kid doesn’t love, cartoons? And which parent has not resorted to cartoons when they run out of energy and ideas to keep their little one occupied? One cartoon episode of a kid can equal to lots of pending work done by a parent, yeah?
However, obviously one must not depend too much on this distraction. Studies have consistently shown that kids should not be exposed to too much screen time. AND that parents need to monitor closely what their kids are being exposed to via this screen time.
So what exactly is considered screen time? Any exposure to TV, laptops, ipads, tablets, phones and these new kid smart pads constitutes screen time. By ANY exposure, I also refer to the audio, since kids absorb quite a bit though hearing. And that especially means the news and adult movies that you may not allow them to LOOK at, but they can still hear the audio and come up to their own conclusions.
Current recommendations regarding screen time are:
0-2 years ——– no screen time at all
2-5 years ——– 1-2 hours max
6 years onwards – limit digital media and be vigilant
Why exactly is there a recommendation to limit screen time? I am sure many of you are thinking that you haven’t noticed any negative impact on your kids…but the truth is, even if it isn’t affecting them now, it can and probably will in the long run, if they continue to be exposed to more screen time than recommended.
It affects their sleep.
Screen time affects adult sleep patterns so you can just imagine the impact on kids. Screen time for both kids and adults should not be happening at night time as it delays sleep, disrupts deep sleep patterns and can increase tendency for nightmares and night terrors.
It affects development.
Physical, mental, social, emotional development are all affected by screen times. Again studies prove that kids who spend time actively playing are in better physical health, score higher in intelligence tests, are better at regulating emotions and are more likely to have stronger bonds with family and friends when compared to children who are passively doing screen time. Of course, there are many interactive shows on tv that urge kids to sing and dance along with the characters which would obviously be preferable to just sitting and watching cartoons. Again moderation is key and parents need to judge what kind of screen time their kid is doing.
Please note that video calls to relatives in foreign countries is not considered as screen time. Rather it is considered as active socialisation with caring adults that can help strengthen kid’s social relations and skills. (That is a relief, since almost every family has some members spread far out in the world!)
It affects relationships.
Again there is widespread consensus that our relationships with electronic devices are deeper than with each other. Moderation is the key – for adults, for kids and especially for families. Parents set the tone in the family, if your kids see you giving priority to your screen time ( be it tv, laptop or mobile) there are high chances that in the future, they will give priority to their electronic devices over you. So focus on family time. Minimise or completely eliminate screen time during family meals and family gatherings. (One step at a time!)
It affects their character.
Right now, on youtube, there are parodies of so many famous cartoon characters except they are doing horrible things. Mickey mouse dying and becoming a zombie, x-rated scenes between elsa, anna and spiderman, characters playing mean pranks on each other. If you are letting your kid watch cartoons on youtube, YOU need to check out the videos beforehand or sit with your kids so you can be sure what they are watching is age- appropriate and modest.
Actually you need to discuss cartoons with your kids in detail anyway (which means you should watch them at some point too!) Why? You see, generally cartoons have good and bad characters both and usually the good one wins. But how do you expect your kid to automatically know what is good and what is bad? They may think the villain is the role model and they may try to mimic that behaviour. In my opinion, a lot of bullies in school might just be misdirected kids who got the wrong ideas from cartoons. So it is important to discuss what they have watched and understood and how this can have an impact on their behaviour and expectations in real life. It also helps to point out good behaviour in cartoons so your kids know what you expect from them.
It affects expectations.
In this fast-paced world with entertainment at the touch of your fingers, kids are more often than not handed electronic devices in waiting lines so they won’t whine. Screens are installed in cars for long drives (or even morning school trips!) As a result, kids expect to be entertained all the time at any time without having to wait a minute. So think of other innovative ideas to distract kids – taking their favorite toy with them, books (these work best for me! Even if you are too busy to read the story, they can look at pictures), puzzles,colouring books, etc etc…
This topic is pretty extensive and so much more can be said. However, the cons of excessive screen time have been highlighted and hopefully parents can take this into consideration when deciding how much and what kind of screen time they should expose their kids to. In the future, we can discuss alternatives to screen time.
Dr. Farah Akram. May Allah guide us to all that is good and right. Ameen.