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Gadget Overload: How to Wean Your Child From the Screen

weaning screen

By: Paula Cabrera

Before we became parents, my husband and I were determined not to expose our child to gadgets. We observed how parents would eat out with their children and not involve them in the conversation as their kids focus their attention on their iPads/phones. We were all set on not giving our child any screen time until she’s big enough or until her attention span can handle an entire show.

Well, of course, this is all easier said than done. From the time I had to stop breastfeeding (that’s an entire story altogether!), it became difficult to give my baby her milk and to feed her in general. I can’t remember exactly how my husband and I discovered it, but we learned that she would only drink her milk and eat while watching Sesame Street. Before we knew it, we have exposed our daughter to the screen – very much contrary to our initial mindset on the matter.

Yes, we have been warned about the negative effects of screen time on the child’s development. Even our daughter’s pediatrician explained to us the correlation between screen time and ADHD, speech delay, behavioral problems, etc. But she wouldn’t eat or drink until she could see Elmo dancing. As such, we adjusted our rules and perspective on screen time, just as parenting entails adjustments that need to be made.

While allowing our toddler to watch her videos for limited time during the day, we make sure that we still have rules on her screen time. For one, we still don’t let her play games on gadgets; I don’t think she even knows the concept of apps and games. Also, we filter what she watches, and we don’t leave her alone with our phones. The end goal is to make sure that she enjoys traditional play, reading books, getting herself dirty during play, and discovering the real world – not the digital world. We want to make sure that she doesn’t get addicted to gadgets, that she learns patience even when a lot of things can be one click away, and that she enjoys conversations and connecting with people face-to-face.

With these goals in mind, my husband and I have set certain rules to regulate our daughter’s exposure to the screen. I’m hoping these points could help other parents one way or another.

And so, here are a few tips on weaning kids from the screen:

1. Parents, let go of your smart phones and play, talk, pray, and have fun with your kids. Children learn by example, and it’s a given that it’s not only kids who can be addicted to gadgets; parents can be too. We need to walk the talk and spend quality time as a family – gadget-free! It’s easy for us to get so engrossed with Facebook, Instagram, Netflix, etc., that we may not notice how our kids observe our own screen/gadget addiction. Hence, the weaning really starts from our decision to lessen our own screen time.

2. Get to know and understand your child’s interests. The attention they give to the screen springs from their interests – fairytales, sports, animals, magic, etc. It would help knowing what our kids are fond of, and from there, we can take an active part in developing their interests without gadgets involved.

3. Explore and develop these interests without gadgets involved. There are so many other ways to let our kids play and enjoy different curiosities. I believe that books play a really big role in shifting a child’s attention from YouTube, Cartoon Network, and all the games on tablets. There’s no limit on creativity, especially when we bond with our kids and engage in their interests as well. Aside from books, I’ve discovered the magic of stickers, stamps, clay, paint, crayons, and even scratch paper, and I’ve vowed never to take these things for granted. Really, Elmo doesn’t have to be seen only on the screen.

4. Limit screen time and make sure you enforce your rules. There are guidelines with regard to screen exposure of children depending on their age. It’s, of course, very much advisable to follow the same. We can’t just let our kids sit in front of the tv or hold on to the tablet the whole day; otherwise, we’ll just encourage them to forget about the rest of the world. As such, once we have agreed on the rules, we need to be firm in implementing them.

5. Old school play is the way. Letting them build or create things using blocks or clay encourages them to use their imagination, instead of letting videos, shows, and games on tablets dictate how things should be or look. Letting our kids run and play even if their clothes get too dirty allows them to enjoy simple yet priceless things in life. All these gadgets are not meant to make our kids forget about the concept of playtime. These are not designed to rob our children of the childhood we ourselves know.

6. While your kid’s using gadgets, engage in conversations with him or her about whatever game or video your kid’s interested in. As parents, we have the duty to guide our kids, and so, we set rules for them. We also have to preview what they are exposed to and determine if the same is appropriate for them. Our job doesn’t end there. It would help that we keep conversing with them as they are exposed to these gadgets.

In this world today wherein technology is very much accessible, it’s impossible that our kids will not become curious about all these gadgets. Instead of avoiding the topic, we ought to guide them and help them understand the proper use of the same. At the end of the day, these are simply tools for learning and enjoyment, and they should not be substitutes for playtime, family bonding, human experience, and interaction.

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Paula Cabrera is a working mom and a devoted wife. She and her husband are both lawyers who are continuously learning to embrace the joys and pains of both work and parenting. Reading and writing have always been some of her hobbies, and so, despite being busy, she finds time to do both even for just a few minutes everyday. She hopes to be able to be able to reach out to other parents through her short pieces and remind them that they are not alone in the crazy yet fulfilling world of parenting.

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