Give your child the best of both worlds

dichotomy

Give your child the best of both worlds

Every time I speak to parents of young children, one of the constant societal pressure points is screen time. How much is permissible, who sets the limits, do you completely ban screens and deny a child what is obviously a generational factor? Schools that allow at-home-screen-time, schools that ban it.

I have a 4-year-old son with the active curiosity of a little mouse. As parents who are connected very closely to new and emerging technology and media, we have multiple screens in our home. Our television, which is connected to a gaming console, a couple laptops — personal and official, a couple smartphones, a couple tablets and a couple ebook readers. It’s a constant struggle to keep our screens away during family time. Like right now, I’m typing this piece on my laptop as my husband is keeping my son engaged with funny cat videos. There is a certain honesty in accepting that the human race has made progress by constantly adapting to evolving times while keeping best practices from the past intact.

My mother-in-law, who was brought up in a small gorgeous town in central Kerala, is nostalgic about a time when rice was an occasional feast and eggs from the family farm was a weekly treat. Her father would round up the boys and take them for a swim to the lake bordering the family land. Post swim, they would return with a fresh catch of fish, which her father would gut and clean. Chicken that ran around the farm were occasionally slaughtered — again, the father would kill, gut, clean and chop pieces up for curry. It was a natural progression those days. The men hunted, the men processed the hunt, the women then cooked it. Sounds primitive in our days of broiler chicken and neighbourhood meat-processing shops. But this was practised only 2 generations ago. My father-in-law couldn’t nab a chicken if his life depended on it. He could fish; and his son, my husband, has fished amply in rivers and streams — I am hoping my son will inherit angling skills as he grows older.

Ours is a country of stark contrasts. Like a wise gentleman once told me in conversation, when you go 100 m from the national highway, it is very different from the cities, go another kilometre in from the highway, the India you see there is one stuck in a time warp.

While urban children are having augmented learning on the digital highway, children in villages are still learning to swim in temple tanks and river banks, are spinning tops and climbing trees to pluck plump, tempting golden mangoes. While the government is doing its bit to make technology that may eventually reach the hands of a 7-year-old kid learning to ride his adult neighbour’s bicycle, a 7-year-old in the city may never get a chance at all the things that make the village boy a son of the soil. The simple joys of feeding the family cow, going to the market to sell produce with the elders — helping around the house not as a favour to anyone but as a means to make ends meet.

Technology has been made accessible and approachable over the years; design is intuitive and literally child’s play. So, it’s not surprising that our children take to screens as easily as they do. However, the responsibility of making sure they get to retain their childhood and do things that will enrich their fine and gross motor skills stays with the parents. Get your child a tablet, let them borrow your phone to watch useful videos and games, but offset it with play that is physical, mental and soul-enriching. Pot a few seeds and start a gardening project. Get your child a cat and teach them to be responsible for another creature. Let them help around the house with chores.

What has stayed timeless about parenting is the task of building a child’s character.

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