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No screens, please

How to get your children away from gadgets and enjoy the holiday season in other ways

No screens, please

According to Dr Chua Siew Eng, it is important to optimise social interaction with your children by placing gadgets face-down and/or removing them from meal times, if possible. Artwork: Kenneth Choy; Freepik

SINGAPORE — It’s a common sight these days. The tableau of families sitting together at a dining table is disrupted by the children — and sometimes, the parents themselves — engrossed with their phones, typing furiously, scrolling, or watching the latest cat video. More often then not, no one speaks to each other.

This is a 21st century parenting dilemma: How do we get children away from the various screens in our lives?

Gadgets such as mobile phones and tablets have made our lives easier. Unfortunately, the younger generation gets exposed to them way more.

From toddlers who love watching their favourite videos online to school-going kids who can’t tear themselves away from online games, to teenagers who constantly message their friends, it seems children of all ages are addicted to gadgets in one form or another.

Gadgets might be handy to have when you are on an important work call or having a headache and just want your child to be quiet for a few minutes. But the negatives tend to outweigh the positives.

Studies have shown that kids who are glued to gadgets could face health issues such as being sleep deprived and having posture problems and weaker eyesight, and could also grow up being more emotionally detached and socially inept.

Apart from all these possible issues, there is also the simple fact that there is so much more for children to see and do in the world than stare at a screen. Especially when it comes to the school holiday period, it’s best if children don’t spend all their free time with gadgets.

So what can parents do to make sure kids get ample time away from screens? One way is to get them to engage in other activities that they would enjoy.

“Encourage them to play outdoor games as well as indoor board games,” Dr Tan Ern Ser, a Families for Life Council Member, advised. “Better still, encourage them to pick up a sport or game as a hobby. Such activities stimulate a child intellectually and push them to challenge their limits, while taking them away from their gadgets. They can also help children to develop useful life skills, including social skills, as such activities involve interaction with others.”

KEEP THEM DISTRACTED

When children are preoccupied with other activities, it keeps their minds away from gadgets. When they realise that there are other, more fulfilling alternatives available, they will most likely avoid escaping into yet another screen.

However, the trick here is not to force your kids away from their gadgets, said Dr Tan, but to instead guide them to make positive choices. Children do not respond well when forced to do anything so it’ll be more effective if parents gently suggest other activities or outings that slowly take kids away from screens.

This could start simply, by reducing the time spent on gadgets and slowly cutting it out of their daily lives — or at least cutting down the number of hours they spend with them.

Dr Chua Siew Eng, a specialist in Psychiatry & Consultant, Raffles Counselling Centre elaborated: “Set appropriate time limits for your child’s use of gadgets. This can be limited by the duration or place, depending on when and where they use them. Also, optimise social interaction with your children by placing gadgets face-down and/or removing them from meal times, if possible.”

Of course, the best way is to organise activities that you can do together as a family, preferably those that allow them to develop their imagination. Visit a library or a museum, organise a nature walk or watch a musical performance. If you prefer to do something indoors — or if it’s a rainy day — play a board game together.

Most importantly, set a good example for your child. “We seem to assume that the child is the one with the problem,” said Dr Tan. “Sometimes, it is the parents themselves who are addicted and therefore a negative role model. So it is important for parents to also take a step back to assess their own habits, to be a positive example for their children.”

PARENTS SPEAK UP

How do parents in Singapore deal with this issue of their kids being too exposed to gadgets? Adlena Wong, 34, public relations consultant and mother of a two-year-old girl, revealed: “My tip, regardless of holiday season, is to take her outdoors more. Whether it is to the park, or the mall, it is the proven way to make her forget about her favourite videos. And now with the YouTube kids app, I set the timer to stop at 30 minutes so she gets a maximum of two servings of that a day — one in the morning and one before bedtime story books.”

“I make it a point for my kids never to use gadgets when we’re out as a family,” said Juliana Monteiro, 39, finance manager and mother of two aged nine and 12. “Family time is strictly for us to spend together, not staring at our respective gadgets while sitting at the same table. It’s also a rule in our house not to use gadgets for at least an hour before bedtime because we don’t want their sleep disrupted for no reason. I think setting rules and sticking by them is the best way for kids to learn.”

And, when it comes to the end of the year when children need to switch from holiday mode to the back-to-school mindset, it’s also important to get them in the right zone to step away from their gadgets, back to their books. Easing them gently is the key.

“One way to prepare children for their return to school after the holidays is to expose them to books, other than textbooks,” Dr Tan explained. “Encourage them to browse and pick up a book from the library to read. To keep the interest up, try talking to them about what they have read. Your interest will encourage them to read and discover more.”

 

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