Up until six months ago, meal times had become a marathon with my kid. Literally! The only participants were I and my son, now a three year old toddler.
Despite having fully formed limbs and hands, I would often get mercilessly defeated by a miniature self, who would happily dodge me and my every effort to outrun him in this mad race of feeding, by crawling or tumbling down at breakneck speed. And all this when I didn’t even have a blazing torch in my hand, but a humble looking bowl containing some mashed form of food!
Hilarious you think it is. Yeah I too, after reading this. However, then, at that point of feeding, it was crazy. Not just crazy, it was barking mad and I was literally losing my sense of self in those meal times. I was fretting, loosing on my sleep, getting angry, acting like a negotiator, to the point of getting angry even more and even threatening my own child with “no TV, no outing”. In vain! Everything failed and so did my self-esteem, especially then as a parent, because I was not even able to feed my own child!
In my attempt to feed him anyhow, I like all “wi-fi” parents, resorted to the digital nanny, to come to rescue.
Gosh! How I loved it initially, as it would miraculously transform my 2.5 year old tantrum throwing child, with flailing arms into a subdued ball of calm, cherubic beauty, who would gobble anything and everything from me, making me feel great as a mother. And all this while he stared at the screen, without blinking or even flinching at the absolutely tasteless food!
As a mother, every little milestone of our little munchkin, every inch of success looks like our incredible achievement. So, initially, when my kid would wipe every last morsel on his plate while watching that angelic device, my heart would fill with pride. Alas! Only if I’d known what price I was paying for all in the name of filling his tummy, I would have been cautious.
Apparently, as per a research paper, it takes about eighteen months for a child’s brain to become fully developed and exposing such brains to digital screens doesn’t help them make any sense of it. To them, at that stage they are merely bizarre pictures and a lot of bright light. So while some parents feel it’s teaching their child “some” skill, it’s actually robbing them of some.
Scientific research does show that babies or toddlers, who are exposed to screen viewing, showcase a range of disabilities like delayed language development, poor reading skills and short term memory and even sometimes losing on attention span, concentration and sleep. Although, my child didn’t lack on his vocabulary or communication skills because simultaneously he was exposed to a lot of books and bedtime reading was our sleep routine, yet he was turning a tad bit of a tantrum thrower, especially at meal times. Hence, it was becoming all the more difficult for me to understand how exactly the “Digital screen” was turning against him!
So while I was feeding my baby his food, I didn’t realize that I’d also subjected him to a lot of digital junk food. He ate, but he did not understand what he ate or rather enjoyed the food because he was too busy enjoying the electronic device that I’d kept in front of him. TV or any screen viewing interferes with a child’s ability to respond to signals of fullness, sometimes even leading to overeating and thereby obesity! Food was hence, no longer a source of attraction for my boy, but rather the TV, that accompanied along with it!
I started noticing it when my kid started over eating and would puke, making meal time messier and harrowing than ever before. He would at times, end up coughing and choking with food because he was so immersed in the glowing box.
Anyway, coming back to my parenting shenanigan, I realized that while I was thrilled with my kid eating while watching TV, I completely forgot about what all he was missing or not doing while watching TV. He was missing out on throwing things, banging pots and pans, touching and feeling and seeing a lot of real stuff. Most importantly, he was missing out on human interaction, which does more good to a child’s growth and brain development than a mere electronic device. Hence, in the name of keeping himself entertained, I’d bargained a great deal of his development and behavioural milestones.
Let me elaborate this theory to all the naïve parents out there, who have already plunged on the wrong path, all in the name of feeding. Trust me, the after effects in the long run are more disastrous than you can fathom!
Real human interaction and free play opens a lot of doors in a child’s life. Free play and human interaction hones and develops the important skills, needed for stable functioning in real life. Right from gross motor, fine motor skills, problem solving, to using their imagination, cognitive abilities to being able to soothe and entertain themselves, it touches upon multiple aspects of a human personality. Not to mention the improved social and emotional skills, which in turn makes them more independent and functionally adept to handle life.
The flip side of television or any other digital screen exposure is that the child becomes addictive, shuns any physical or free play, turns aggressive, becomes non-cooperating, restless and worse, and throws temper tantrums.
Behavioural issues are on the rise amongst school children. Higher exposure of violent video games( the likes of blue whale and god knows, what not) or even aggressive teen fights scenes in cartoons, all add up to building an aggressive trait in a child. They try to simulate the same in their real life, by either showing aggression towards themselves or towards their own parents, siblings to even friends and classmates.
As a result of too much screen time, such children with prolonged exposure to digital screens not just have hampered social skills or poor stress coping skills, but even shortened attention spans, reduced impulse control and heightened aggression to the tune of being abusive in the teen years.
I thought I had kept my child entertained, but I didn’t realize the damage it had done. My child was shrieking with rage, when I didn’t buy him his toy or was throwing and breaking toys out of frustration or simply giving up on playing blocks as he couldn’t do it. The lack of focus, the lack of confidence (because of lack of free play) was all crushing his self-worth and he was already giving up!
TV is a slow poison for babies, pre-schoolers, primary school children, who should be doing much more free play rather than watching TV. Although I realized it late, yet I brought help to myself and my kid, by planning more and more activities during meal times and also throughout the day. It indeed was turning out to be more beneficial than before. After some extensive reading and minute observations towards my child’s growth, I have finally managed to bring down screen time to half an hour every day, and that too post meals (consciously).
Although the unlearning effort and struggle that I as a parent had to go through, had literally called for my rehabilitation than my kid’s, nevertheless, the journey was worth taking.
The flip side as a parent was that I was getting drained in process and had lesser time for other stuff, but I realized that several years down the lane, it won’t matter how my house looked or how fine my culinary skills were, what will matter is how I raised and brought help to my child, who was at the helm of getting ruined by the much loved electronic device of the century. Not that I’m against the screen time, but I’m for sure for preschoolers or toddlers. For the slightly bigger age group say from age five to the teenagers, I feel the same can do a lot good( again when the dosage is kept to minimum). For a better understanding, just sharing a chart that I found on the internet.
Now, as an informed and concerned parent, I have an honest suggestion. In order to safeguard our sanity and our kids’ future, let’s turn off the TV to a minimum time. For the sake of your child’s social, emotional and intellectual development, its time you switched ‘off’ that TV and switched ‘on’ you!