India’s tech entrepreneurs who are usually focused on getting people to spend more time and money online have a terse advice for parents handing out digital free passes to their young children: strictly regulate.
Snapdeal cofounder Kunal Bahl’s daughter Tameera had got hooked to watching videos on smartphones when he decided to pull the plug.
“We weaned her off the phone and focused all her energy on reading books. That has played an incredible role in transforming her learning abilities,” Bahl said. The only digital time the nearly three-year-old now gets is to look at family videos and photos online, which is barely a few minutes. Bahl is more the norm than the exception when it comes to how business leaders at the forefront of tech development use technology in their personal lives.
When Apple founder Steve Jobs was once asked what his children thought of the iPad, he said they hadn’t used it. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home,” Jobs had said. Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda Gates had strict guidelines on when it was okay for their children to use their phones or other devices at home. In India, too, many parents are now restricting their children’s access to smartphones, even if digital devices help take the edge off parenting by keeping kids engrossed.
MobiKwik co founder Upasana Taku’s 1.3-year-old gets less than 30 minutes a week to watch some child-friendly content on YouTube or television. “I am dead against parents just handing over their phones to kids and letting them play endless videos. I have read and found that early device usage has an impact on development,” she said.
Research does show an easing up of symptoms related to attention deficit disorders in young children once digital screen time is restricted. Exposure to technology and personal devices has been linked to various issues in children — slower cognitive development, difficulty in focusing, and even obesity. The dangers that come from spending too much time on social media, like cyber bullying and a skewed sense of self-worth, fall under a separate category.
Tanu Choksi, a Mumbai-based psychologist who works closely with children and their parents, said the smartphone is usually a sore point, especially with tween (ages 10-14) and teenage clients.
“I suggest parents collaborate with each other and then draw a contract with their kids on how they can use this ‘privilege’ before handing over the phone to them. At the same time, parents have to do their bit in being appropriate role models and set the right example when it comes to the amount of time they spend on their personal devices,” she said.
Some parents with older children, though, seem to have made their peace with this situation.
“They are digital natives. If they had their way, they would sleep, eat and breathe digitally,” said Qwikcilver cofounder Pratap TP, whose kids are aged 16 and eight. The older son has been trusted to manage his own time limits as well as his social media presence (with restrictions during exams), as long as academics and his performance on the school basketball team isn’t affected.
Managing the kid’s time online invariably makes many parents reflect on their own digital addictions.
“Managing and auditing the kids has only got my dear wife to showcase to me that I am seriously addicted to my time online and to my devices while dining at home or on travel,” said Pratap. “I am seeking to be on a detox mission since this realisation dawned on me.”
Meanwhile, his wife and 8-yearold daughter have entered into a pact wherein they both refrain from any screen time when they are together. This kind of behaviour, where the parent acts as a role model instead of strictly imposing diktats, is a much more effective way of getting the message across to kids, say psychologists.
Parents are also trying to offer alternatives. “From an early age, it is critical that children are encouraged to read and for parents to spend a lot of time reading to them,” said Bahl. “It is one of the best ways to enhance their cognitive abilities and concentration.”
Taku added, “I personally find kids are addicted and more angry if they watch videos like Peppa Pig or Chhota Bheem regularly. A toy or a book is a better distraction.”