Keeping a Tab on Digital Addiction

If you’ve ever handed a child an iPad or smartphone in a bid to keep them entertained while you cook, clean or simply relax for five minutes, you won’t be alone. But what can start as an innocent way to pass the time could turn into a dangerous habit and children as young as four are reportedly getting hooked to their smart gadgets. Screen toxification is a fact of life for many urban families.
As a parent it is important to quickly get your child onto a ‘Digital Detox Diet’. We don’t have to eliminate digital media from our lives as that would be undesirable by all but we can certainly help ourselves and our kids create balance. Families should discuss and decide on a digital strategy together. Children need to be aligned so that they can be part of the solution.
Here is a sample ‘Digital Detox Diet’ that parents can try:

  • Parents often tell me that their young toddlers refuse to eat meals without the screen being next to them. The best way is to pull out the plug from the TV and keep all other gadgets out of sight during meal times. Playing some alternative verbal games with your child is a fun alternate. Do this for three continuous days during all meal times. It is like weaning your child off the bottle.
  • You could also try a ‘no virtual games’ week every month where all family members would refrain from playing games on any kind of gadget during that week. Many adults I know spend hours playing games on their mobiles or tabs. No wonder the kids are doing the same! In the following week, you could involve your children and mutually agree on a fixed time for playing virtual games for everyone. However, make sure that you limit this time off to maximum one hour a day. Place this after Tip 4.
  • Request your kids hand over their smart devices to you during their study time. I have seen my daughter get distracted by notifications on Whatsapp, Facebook, imessage, Snapchat etc. while she is trying to study. Such distractions reduce your child’s ability to concentrate. Do return their gadgets back to them once they have completed their work. Ever since my daughter has tasted her own productivity, she keeps her phone away during her study time and keeps Facebook notifications on an off-mode on her computer
  • The time that is available because of a reduction in your child’s screen time must be planned to avoid any sort of restlessness. Ever tried dieting or fasting? The day we decide to fast, is the day when we feel most hungry, especially for foods we have not had in weeks! This also applies for digital detox diets. Plan for a family game, outing or visit your neighbourhood park. Better still ask them to call their friends to join them outdoors.
  • A friend recently shared that they have a rule when the family gets together. A basket is kept on a side table and everyone has to put their smartphones and tablets in the basket when they sit for dinner. How often have we seen people sitting together at a meal but all engaged on their own gadgets? Get a basket and have fun as one unit.
  • Spend that ‘non-gadget’ time to have a REAL conversation with your family. My kids love to give me a lowdown of how their day went by. Such one-on-one interactions will also help introvert children to open up with you & others in the family. We can’t engage with our children if we ourselves are busy taking calls, playing games or reading that article a friend shared on Facebook.
  • Turn off notifications on your phone, especially the ones from Whatsapp, Facebook & other group-based chats. Let your friends and family know if they have to reach you urgently, they should call or drop you an sms. I personally have only set notification for sms, calls and emails. I do not look at emails between 5:00 to 9.30 pm. On the days I don’t follow this discipline, I find myself losing focus on what my kids are doing/telling me.
  • Keep all devices out of the bedroom. They can get charged in another room. Get back to using an alarm clock rather than the phone. This will give you a half an hour window to think about the day ahead when you wake up, rather than instantly reaching out for the phone and getting absorbed in it.
  • Plan a vacation closer to nature at least once a year without any gadgets. Explore the wilderness with your children and refrain from watching TV in the hotel room. This tip should be somewhere later. We start from daily activities to less frequent ones, otherwise one would tend to switch off.

Choose the tips that you feel would work best for you. Be under no illusion. On many days, you may find yourself giving in to temptations that our smart devices offer us or for your child who may throw a bad tantrum at you. A strong belief in the need to digitally detoxify your family will go a long way. Hang in there and share your successes with your peers. 

- as published in the Deccan Herald, Bangalore/Hyderabad/Chennai on 17th Dec 2015

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