Večernji list: “How to separate small children from the tablet without arguing and tears”

In an article published in Večernji list on October 20, 2018, the psychologist of the Child and Youth Protection Centre of Zagreb, Mia Roje advises parents how not to cross the dangerous boundaries, how much time children can spend in front of the screen, and what to do when they rebel because they have to stop playing with smart devices. Also, actress Ana Vilenica shared her experience with her son Dujam Anton on how she protects him against the excessive use of technology:

“We cannot isolate children, pretending that screen devices do not exist. This would be completely wrong because modern technology, apart from risk, can bring a lot of benefits, and introducing children with those devices will inevitably happen, and it is certainly better for it to happen under adult guidance. Tablets can be a quality educational tool, but to a certain extent and under certain circumstances. They are not substitution for the parents’ time and attention – explains the psychologist of the Child and Youth Protection Center of Zagreb, Mia Roje. She adds that this is not just about smart phones and tablets, but also about watching the TV, cell phones, computers …

– The first symptoms can be recognized is that the child cannot perform basic functions such as feeding or sleeping without a small screen, showing a great discomfort and anxiety when separated from the screen, not having fun with other common activities. Falling asleep with the smart screen is a big mistake. While viewing some content or playing the game, children will often need more time to fall asleep, also they will probably sleep even worse. It has been proven that, for small children, watching such contents immediately before bedtime results in less REM phase, a deep sleep phase, which is necessary for an adequate rest. That’s why children should not look at screens for at least an hour before going to bed – warns Roje. Psychologist points that children younger than two years should not be allowed to watch the content on the screen or play smart devices according to the recommendation of the American Paediatric Association. After the child turns two, they can be allowed up to 30 minutes a day and every year this limit gradually moves, and before it goes to school, when the maximum screen time can be two hours. This means that if you look at a full-length cartoon or a child’s movie, that day they should not play more on the tablet.

Control the time and content that children watch on smart gadgets

– Excessive game playing can cause children to withdraw into their own world. Child won’t be interested in hanging with peers because games on the screen are dynamic, have interesting colours, sounds etc… The child would not want to play games with peers, play sports, won’t develop imagination, the same way as children who are not overly excited with the contents of the screen – explains Mia. She adds that it is very important to find the ratio of time children spend in front of a screen and time they spend in nature, or that this ratio must always be in favour of playing outside, whenever possible. If it is not possible, for example due to weather conditions, even the house can be organized for activities without the screen – both for children and for parents who are the main role models of their children’s behaviour.

– Of course, it is not enough just to set the time limit, but also to monitor what kind of content the child is watching on the screen, i.e. what game is the child playing. Aggressive content, from videos on YouTube, to those in games needs to be eliminated, in those situations specially designed programs for parents can provide necessary help. Of course, it may happen that the child may accidentally encounter aggressive content that is inappropriate and then it should be discussed in such a way to encourage the child’s critical opinion, ask questions openly and come to a conclusion on the content they possibly saw. That is the main reason why it is important for parents to see what is the child watching on smart device every fifteen minutes – advises a psychologist.

The child has the right to rebellion, and the parent must be persistent

Many parents have real struggles with children when it comes time for them to stop playing and returning their tablet or smartphone. Children often overreact and cry. Roje says that parents should be tactful. It is a good idea to announce to the child in the way it understands, depending on how much time they have left to play in front of the screen and warn that they will have to stop in a few minutes. If a child asks for a little more time to complete the game’s level of achievement, that can be allowed in a way so that the parent monitors and finds out when the child really finishes, when it reaches a higher level (or however they have agreed). Likewise, it would be good to warn them in other games, for example, when a child plays in a park or sandbox, to prepare them for ending a pleasant activity. Despite this, children sometimes protest very loudly when the additional time expires.

– A child has the right to rebellion, and parents must have confidence and dissipate the unpleasant emotions, words, and behaviours that may occur in the child. It is possible to listen to the child’s opinion and comfort him, but set the limits without discussing, in the sense that children outcry will not lead to parents changing their rules. Children do not like to go to a doctor, sometimes they do not like to go to school or wear a jacket while it is cold outside, but we know they have to, because it is in their best interest – the same applies to screens. Otherwise, children will always try to move the boundaries. If they see that their outcry does not work, they won’t protest anymore when the time comes to stop the game – says Roje.

Ana Vilenica often tells her son that the tablet has emptied the battery

Six-year-old Dujam Anton, son of Ana Vilenica, like many of his peers likes to play on smartphone and watch television. Actress is not forbidding him that, but she is careful that he doesn’t overdo it. – Pre-school children have to hang out, play in the sand, run, fall … actually do everything we did when we were in their age. Now is the time to learn that, and they cannot do so virtually. Of course, they should not be banned from playing games on smart devices and watching cartoons, but it has to be controlled – Ana says. Actress strictly holds the ratio of the time her son is spending on screen activities and how much she is in front of the screen. If Dujam spent less than three hours playing outside, that day he won’t watch the cartoons or play games on smart devices.

– Kids learn to download and install games quickly, which is nothing strange, because smart games are designed logically so they are easy to use. So, I’m very careful about what games are installed on the smartphone, especially so that there is no aggressive content in them. I also don’t allow him to watch content on YouTube because it allows children to switch from one video to another uncontrollably. As a result, children cannot focus and lose the power of concentration – says Vilenica. She added that lately she has been saying to her son that the tablet does not work because its battery is empty, and she lends him her smartphone for playing games. She tends to download educational content and she keeps strict limitation on time. At first, he was rebellious, but it should not be taken personally. I was persistent, and this is rarely happening now” describes Ana.

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