Parents wants the best for their kid. But parents are human too. And they need a break every once in a while. This could be a half hour of peace at home or a nice dinner at a restaurant without a flying spoon or a harangued waiter. Enter rich media- television, smartphone, and or a tablet.
If you are a parent with a kid younger than 6 years, you know exactly what I mean. I have always wondered how our parents managed this problem. Agreed that in India, everyone had friends living around us that ensured that we had company almost all the time. And going out to restaurants – I don’t ever remember doing that until I was older. But our lives today- both in India and in the US are dramatically different. We work long hours and in most families, both parents work. Evening thus becomes a challenge with an active child and tired parents. Sparks fly. Tantrums are thrown. And the parent, left with no other weapon that is easier, turns to television (or laptop or smartphone or tablet).
Turns out, unsurprisingly, most parents choose the easy way out. And there are now studies to show that this isn’t the best choice. So how do we balance this equation in a way that gives parents the break they so badly need without introducing elements that could potentially harm the long term development of the child?
In our household, we have an interesting situation. Our 3 year old has been largely kept away from television and we don’t own a tablet to give into the new fangled craze. But it has come at the cost of us spending all our evening time with the child. One of us has to be fully engaged with the boy all evening which can be tiring, demanding and occasionally stressful given the tantrums and mood swings of a three year old.
We are exploring when to introduce television to our almost 4 year old and the challenges ahead. While a 15 minute slot every day is within acceptable limits, the enforcement is challenge- atleast based on what I see with other kids of the same age. Kids are in agreement when the time limit is proposed but by the time the end arrives, they are thirsting for more and the situation disintegrates pretty rapidly.
And then there is content. While there is a plethora of kids friendly content- it is tricky to pick what suits one’s child without affecting him/her in the long run. The wonderful cartoons I grew up have content that is potentially unsuitable for kids. With every cartoon, just as with every book, interpretations are what make a difference between pleasant and dangerous. A couple of harmless lion tales told to my son resulted in biting incidents at school.
If one were to lean towards new age media delivery on tablets and smartphones, there are apps for everything- most certainly for kids. App developers are clever to understand problems of parenting- and therein lies the problem. Kids apps are addictive to the point of engrossing them for hours at a stretch and this is an undesirable situation that can lead to ugly scenarios, not to mention the health hazards. How does one strike a balance?
I wish I had answers to these questions. I have had long discussions with parents who have and continue to stay on either side of the problem. There are parents who have shunned televisions completely and then there are those that offer upto 5 hours of television. We recently met with a couple with older kids who said they never regulated tv watching but the kids learnt to prioritize by themselves. Remarkable as it was to hear that, I dont think this would be easy for every parent. And then there are those who have succesfully managed to regulate the time kids get content- I wish my son was that easy to control in that regard.
Eventually, we will give in and offer some minimal tv time to our kid. When that will happen and how we will manage it remains an unresolved question.