The children get restless and fidgety. Who can blame them? I mean, sitting in one place for over 30 minutes? Come on! Not even adults like to do that, at least not unless it is something that fascinates them. Cue the iPad or the Smartphone.
Ever taken a road trip with your children? How about a dinner at a restaurant in town with your kids in tow? What is the first thing you notice about half an hour into either activity? The children get restless and fidgety. Who can blame them? I mean, sitting in one place for over 30 minutes? Come on! Not even adults like to do that, at least not unless it is something that fascinates them.
Cue the iPad or the Smartphone. Whip it out of the handbag and slide it over to the child. Peace reigns for the parents and the kids are glued to the flickering screens in front of them.
I really wish I could say that this is an exaggeration, but you and I both know that it isn’t. I also know that this isn’t the first article you may be reading which talks about the effects of gadget use on the child’s brain, his attention span or her social skills. There are enough research-based pieces out on the Web for you to find, which will systematically enumerate everything that you are doing to ‘damage’ the child, because of gadget exposure. Since I am no scientist or research specialist, I will not pontificate on that, but merely speak from the twin perspective of a mother and a concerned observer.
Nothing is completely bad. Let’s get that straight, right off the bat. So, if you are the parent who hands the kid the Tablet to quieten his raging tantrum, I am not going to judge you. All I am saying is, let’s also look at the alternatives; the old-fashioned ones that most of us grew up on.
Alternative 1: Books
Yes, these still work across all age groups. Keep a pile of books handy in the car, in your bag or in a backpack that the kid can carry. Make sure they are light, simple reading which will keep them creatively engaged. Have a dedicated book corner at home for the child so she can feel comfortable enough to reach for a book to satisfy her boredom.
Alternative 2: Board Games
We introduced this to our daughter at a reasonably young age; you know, the age when she would stop chewing the pieces or swallowing the dice. It is a wonderful way to tickle their curiosity and also enhance basic concepts of how to win or lose. The problem with games on the iPad is that they focus only on the forefinger, which causes strain for the child over a long period of time. Get the simple, pocket versions of some games which you can carry with you to a lunch with the kids.
Alternative 3: Variable Play
Word games, Charades, Counting cars and trees are all games that you can play with the child on a car drive. If the child is really small, you can play music for them on the car’s sound system such as rhymes they can listen to or take those age-appropriate toys that will entertain them for the long haul.
I do get that these do not always work and that desperate times call for desperate measures. If you must give the iPad to the child, do it with moderation and with clear ground rules laid out. Tell them they have to:
- Balance their time with the iPad by doing other activities such as reading and outdoor play.
- Use the iPad for a pre-agreed duration of time. At our home, it is 30 minutes at a stretch, twice in a day and on weekends only.
To be really honest, I am not going to tell you how to parent your child or how to regulate things like TV watching or gadget use. I do notice, however, that kids these days are more comfortable looking down at their devices than they are in looking us in the eye.
That, to me, speaks of a generation that is getting drawn to technology way too early. If we can do our bit to ensure that the draw is gradual and not instant, we may just be doing the best thing possible for our children.