Rasleen and Inder are MBA grads who decided pretty early that the typical corporate life wasn't for them. While Rasleen has worked in IT, Environment Education and Financial Services, she has now morphed into a mompreneur running The Attic, an eclectic furniture store in Dubai. Inder's essentially a deal maker, currently in the bunkering business. They live with their two daughters G and T (ages 5 and 3) in Dubai. Below is a peek into the conversation of Deepa Duraiswamy (DD) with Rasleen Kaur Sahni (RKS), for ChildSafeMedia.
DD: Hi Rasleen! I know you are a MediaParenting family, with specific controls on your kids’ media exposure. Why did you make such a choice?
RKS: There are too many studies showing how bad screen time is for kids. I know how addictive it is for myself. If I didn't have the phone on me all the time, in particular, and the internet in general, I'd be so much more productive! At home I mean. When I was working full time, I didn't have time for media, but now, the kids see me with it all the time, and it's like a resistant infection that just doesn't go away! I don't want them to start feeling this way at this age!!
DD: True. We do set an example. So what screen times do you allow for your family?
RKS: It's basically half an hour after meals, consisting of videos and a couple of games I've downloaded.
DD: That’s amazing! How do you do it? One of the things parents tell us is that they know screen time is bad for kids but they just can’t get the children to stop.
RKS: Let me share our story. G started watching videos on YouTube when she was about 2.5, because I had the little one to manage, no mom or mom-in-law and a lousy maid. It helped to keep her distracted while I fed T or was trying to make her sleep. Then G was a poor eater and needed all sorts of story telling and singing and I just couldn't do it and videos helped there too. This continued till she was about 4, and I'd started getting complaints from her nursery that she was too slow at eating and that while they would make all efforts to get her to finish, when she goes to big school, she would find it very difficult to manage. Also at home, the eating sessions were growing longer and longer because she wouldn't chew and it was getting to be too frustrating getting her eyes off the videos! Somehow I convinced her that when she's 4, she would be a big girl and she would be going to a big school soon, so she needs to stop watching videos while eating. She was also not enjoying being told off at every meal, so the deal was that she would eat without videos, and after food, she could enjoy 2 videos uninterrupted and unsupervised! And that's how it's been till date. In addition, she plays a couple of colouring or dressing up games on weekends.
So when parents tell me that their kids (4, 5, 6 yo) are addicted and they can't take the devices away from them, I believe that they haven't tried hard enough. This is the age to detox them, because once they're 7-8, they won't be able to enforce or reason them into less screen time! I'm told 8 is the new 10, and 10 yo are well into being pre-teens! Plus there's the indefensible fact that the parents themselves are constantly on their devices!
DD: I hear you! Catch them young!
RKS: Yes! Soon the kids will be on the www as part of course requirements. It's so scary. I'm going to impose all sorts of parental controls, but even then those sleazy ads will crop up, I'm sure, and with it the inevitably awkward questions.
DD: There are people who believe exposure to technology is essential for kids in this digital age.
RKS: Yes there are people who believe that early exposure helps the kids "grow" and become "mature" , but I'm happy with nature taking it's own course! G's 5! Just five years old! I want to keep her safe. That's what my job as a parent is! She got scared when we started watching Nemo at age 3. Started crying when a lion caught it's prey on Animal Planet. She's happy playing with her blocks, dolls, colours. Doing HW. Going for ballet, dance, arts.
DD: Same with N. I remember we had this conversation once - maybe we are shielding them from reality. But if this innocence is childhood, I don’t want to put my boot in it.
RKS: And we need it. Reality swoops down on them at a terrifying pace, and these years are foundational.
DD: What happens when you travel? When you're visiting family and friends?
RKS: Family agrees with this too, so it's not a problem when we go to India. Parents and in-laws don't watch much TV. And are willing to sacrifice their screen time for the kids, cos they agree too. As regards socialising, where's the time for that? The kids have their friends. We have play dates with like-minded folks. And there are an increasing number.
DD: That's great!
RKS: I'm OK with reality shows, because G & T love singing & dancing soooo much.
DD: What about cousins watching these anime action shows, Ben Ten, etc.? Violent, noisy with no language cues. Fast-paced, addicted to a trance state basically.
RKS: Yeah, can imagine. Stuck to the screens. No interaction. I have just one cousin in Gurgaon and the TV stays off which we visit for a few hours. I've seen kids 7-8 yo, playing video games in store. Hardly a foot away from the screen. My mom's an eye doctor. It's scary what all this is going to lead to and parents are turning a blind eye.
We tried some TV time, with Animal Planet. But they get hooked in the first watch. Then all deadlines go for a toss. Wanna watch more, more, please, please, wahhhhhhhh. You think I don't have enough to do dealing with two kids and doing normal chores?! Why add another nuisance to the mix?
DD: Haha! Tough little negotiators!
RKS: G watched Barbie & Ruby and Max, so sees the girls dressing up... Her friends down the road also have a kiddie make-up kit. I'm seriously OK with them being fixated on make-up than TV. Again some parents may think otherwise. But I find the latter more harmful!
DD: And yeah, perhaps makeup does less damage than mind-f**k. N wasn't into that but is now getting into frocks and hair clips. Big jump for someone in boys clothes all the time and who always claimed to be a boy.
RKS: Haha. I used to love dressing up too as a 5 yo. Don't do much of that now!
DD: Thank you for sharing your insights and for sharing from the heart, Rasleen! We hope to come back to you to see how you folks are doing on your MediaParenting journey!
RKS: Thank you!
Want to share your MediaParenting journey? Or the challenges you face with media at home? Do write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.