I was at a Chinese restaurant recently where a family of five adults and one child were dining at the Tepenyaki table next to us. Owing to the inconvenient layout of Tepenyaki tables, people tend to find themselves seated all on one side of the table instead of facing each other. And so, while the rest of the bunch had leaned in close to converse in loud decibels about a recent divorce of a dear friend, a young boy, not more than five or six years old was left to fend for himself in a corner. He had a tablet opened in front of him on the table with a cartoon that seemed to have him glued to the screen in unnerving silence.
The only person in the restaurant who seemed to be unnerved by the whole scene was me. The boy spent his entire restaurant visit in silence staring at the screen and pushing the tablet just a little further away to make room for his plate of food that he engaged with silently while his eyes never left that screen.
This has become the norm today but maybe it is the fact that I have just had a child of my own that sent alarm bells of worry through me like tiny electric shocks. What worried me more was the fact that none of the adults seated next to the boy seemed to care – not just about the incessant screen time his young eyes were devouring but also the boy’s existence itself.
Surely I would make a better parent than that? But how will I restrict screen time in a generation yet to arrive that may well be a step further from the screen-obsessed one we already find ourselves in?
This has fast become the ‘worldwide web’ of dilemmas cast across the upbringing of children in households around the world but we must not forget about its smallest of victims – newborn babies.
A friend recently relayed the inconceivable story of a month-old baby that was being shown animated cartoon figures on an Ipad for hours at a stretch to stop him from crying. Do some parents forget about the dangers of screen time on such tiny eyes that are practically still in their development stage? Surely the stuffed animals and musical rattles that have always been used to entertain babies have not gone out of vogue?
My husband and I find ourselves on opposing sides of many topics when it comes to our son’s upbringing. But one of the exceptions is screen time – how much is too much and when is the right time to introduce the use of devices.
Since schools and educational institutions have now deemed it virtually impossible for students to do without them, the need to restrict its use for recreational purposes seems to have become even more crucial to balance it out so as not to let an unhealthy and ultimately dangerous lifestyle creep in. They have their whole lives ahead of themselves to tweet, post, like and snap away!
If there is one thing our children need more than anything, it is the understanding of the generation of our parents. A world without internet and devices. An age where play time meant hop scotch and cricket matches with neighborhood friends and picnics in nearby parks.
Studies have shown a striking difference in the intelligence and emotional quotients of growing children who have had significant exposure to outdoor activities and sports as opposed to those that have been cooped up indoors with video games and screens as their play mates and the only physical activity is the movement of their thumbs.
It was very heartening to speak with a couple recently, who have made it a household rule to leave their phones in the bedroom when they sit down for a meal and leave them behind when they go to a restaurant. This isn't just to remedy their own lifestyles but also to be role models for their young children who have to follow the same rule with no TV during meals.
Straying from the herd isn’t always easy. But I have resolved to try. While my two-month old is only exposed to rattles and stuffed animals so far, I hope to be able to hold the fort just a little longer before he begins to teach me about that complicated new device some years down the line.
Shaira Mohan is a freelance writer and fiction author. She writes for many news publications and has authored short stories such as Raghu and Wedding Woes.