'Discover, explore, grow': How to create balance and lower your child's screen usage

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Children enjoy having hands-on, one-on-one time with their parents. (Fizkes/Getty Images)
Children enjoy having hands-on, one-on-one time with their parents. (Fizkes/Getty Images)

Last year parents took on the role as their child’s teacher, and many sighed in relief when their children returned to school. 

However, the start of this year has handed the title back to many parents whose children are currently taking part in online schooling, while others are having to look after their children who are enjoying their extended school holiday. 

All this, while trying to meet work deadlines, keep the house running, attend to chores and still spend quality time with family, is understandably overwhelming.  

A quick solution is to make sure that their tablets are fully charged, and that they are familiar with the television remote control, enabling time for you to get through your work and your daily chores.

However, as helpful as this seems, it can hurt your child’s development. Children enjoy having hands-on, one-on-one time with their parents, plus it is also a great way for you to destress during this trying time.

'More and more time in front of screens'

"Various research has shown that children are spending more and more time in front of screens, and therefore are not engaging in activities that generations before were taking part in. Children are meant to be children and should be encouraged to explore outside, but due to extended screen time and the necessity for online schooling this is just not happening," explains Sarah Webb from  Personal Touch.

Screen time takes children away from playing outside, stops them from using their imagination and limits their social interaction with others around them.

"In fact, organisations such the World Health Organisation (WHO) have provided recommended screen time usage for children noticing that when this time is exceeded, our children’s well-being and mental growth are negatively affected."

Researchers at the Witwatersrand University, together with researchers from around the world conducted research which discovered that high levels of screen time can negatively impact children and that less time in front of their screens helps avoid obesity, promotes better sleep, physical fitness and cognitive, social and emotional development.

This research, which was conducted over three years, helped generate screen time authoritative guidelines in South Africa, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and various other countries, states that recreational screen time should be avoided in children under two-year-old, limited to one hour a day for two to four-year-olds, and two hours per day for five to 17-year-olds.

Even though following the guidelines may not be possible due to the overwhelming number of tasks to get done, it is important to be aware of this negative impact and perhaps look at ways that work in your home to minimise it. 

Must read: 'Work on their emotion and let them read, read and read!': How to cope with the back to school delay

Creating balance

Most parents know that extended screen time can help when trying to get through a to-do list, however having your child in front of a screen all day does not aid in their emotional and physical developmental needs, as well as your own emotional needs.

A great idea when limiting screen time is to replace some of it with one-on-one interaction, creating a balance among all the chaos.

"A parent slows their pace, stops thinking about other things and sees the world through their child’s perspective," explains Webb.

"All parents know that the best thing for a child is their attention, and even though it may seem that other things can be done during this time to also contribute to their child’s wellbeing... it’s time to put everything else on the back burner and bring out their inner child. Play outside, get dirty, paint a picture or simply lie on the grass and look at the clouds; nothing is too little for your child."

Playing outside and getting dirty is recommended for all children because it creates a spirit of curiosity, imagination and exploration. They can find and discover things they never would staying indoors, and playing and getting dirty has also been linked to a positive impact on social interactions between family members.

Being outside climbing trees, rolling in the grass and running around promotes exercise and physical wellbeing, which benefits the health of your child. Your child’s concentration will also improve as it takes a fair amount of thinking and processing when exploring and discovering new things.

"Let your child get dirty, and even though one of your thoughts may be about the amount of washing this might create, just enjoy the moment,” says Webb. "It’s time for them to discover, explore, grow and create a mess." 

Also read: The kids are not ok: How the lockdown is hurting our children

Quality time

Setting limits to your child’s screen time can be done on their devices, and although it may come with some resistance, these new boundaries will benefit your child. Also, designate the time that you and your child will spend together. It is understood that there are other priorities such as work that also need to be done during the day, and it is all about finding a balance.

"Quality time is defined as giving your child your undivided attention, and even though we all know how easy it is to take just one phone call, or answer a quick email, this time is a screen-free time for parents as well."

Quality time, as with limiting screen time, can help lessen behavioural issues, contribute to your child’s mental and emotional health, and increase fitness and improve their physical wellbeing.

"Something to remember is that even though the world is adjusting to our new way of living, we have also been given the gift of time to spend with our children," comments Webb.

"And even though these circumstances haven’t completely lessened our to-do lists, in fact, it may have increased them in some instances, let’s make some time to get messy and make some memories."

Submitted to Parent24 by Personal Touch. 

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