Rasna Saini is mom to a young adventurous boy, wife to another young adventurous boy and daughter of an army officer (father) and a research scientist (mother). She spends her days raising her son, running a startup (www.ThePineTree.co) and delivering lectures at various investment banks globally. She has an engineering degree from The University of Pune and an MBA from The Cornell University and The London Business School. She enjoys traveling, spending time with family and friends, eating healthy food, taking care of her body and sometimes going open water diving. In this freewheeling chat, Rasna (RS) shares with Deepa Duraiswamy (DD) why she and her husband Aman chose to be a MediaParenting family and how they make it work.
DD: Hello Rasna! Thanks for talking to ChildSafeMedia about your MediaParenting journey. As you know, we advocate screen discipline due to the complex impact it has on children.
RS: Thank you Deepa. It’s a pleasure talking with you about a topic which is so close to our heart. I am very happy to share our journey about media parenting. In fact the word journey is also close to my heart, as I travel often for work and I see families at the airport all engrossed in their own devices, just not talking with each other.
DD: I remember reading your FaceBook post sometime ago in which you shared how you’d turned off the TV in your home. #SwitchOffTheTV is one of the major themes at ChildSafeMedia. Could you share what prompted you to do that?
RS: Well, we’ve now been 4.5 years without a TV! We used to live in HongKong where the apartments are tiny and we had a swivel TV to serve both the living room and the bedroom. When we moved to Bangalore, we were faced with the decision of buying a new TV and when we pondered about it we decided not to buy one.
RS: When I got pregnant, I started reading many books about pregnancy, babylove and brain development of the child. The book on brain development is a heavy book. You can’t finish it in one read. One of the things that really stuck with me was that in any cartoon or children’s video, the picture frame changes every 10 second. And the brain gets acclimatised to that. Even if it is Einstein TV or farmhouse animals. There's so much action - the inside of a farmhouse, the outside, goats, sheep, farmer. But in reality, when you take the child to the actual farmhouse, it isn’t so fast-paced, so real life seems to become boring to a child. So the child wants to go back to the TV. It then becomes a vicious cycle!
I was recently re-reading the book. And here’s another thing that I found, relevant to our son’s age right now - the child’s far-sightedness develops at the age of 4-6. As per our environmental evolution, it develops based on the exposure to sunlight. Which means, outside play time but during sunlight. Whereas, increasingly now our children are in school and daycare during those hours, focussing on learning in the classroom - they really don't get to see very far off - during the day time. When we finally take them out to play, it is already after 6pm, and the sun has set. Not sure if this can explain it or we can correlate it, but we do see increasing number of children wearing eye glasses too. I feel we really not to be cognizant about how evolution has developed the human body.
DD: That’s so true. The impact is not just during childhood but really long into adulthood.
RS: The building of the neurons also depends on the exposure that a child has. Human touch and human interaction are paramount for child’s language development and bodily development. Children learn much through their senses. TV or media in general, are one-sided interaction with the child. They do keep the child busy, but they use only 2 senses which can seriously effect a child’s perceptual abilities. Therefore, it’s important to ask ourselves – what’s the end goal?
I think it is imperative that we focus on the physical development of a child in the early years. In our parents generation, they would play and hang out with each other till the age of 6. Their schooling started only after their milk teeth had fallen – usually after the age of 6. Play is the work of a child and we must encourage outdoor play as and when possible, but this is more difficult when you have a TV. The negotiation is void when the TV is taken out of the picture.
But also, in reality, there are many times when I feel challenged about keeping the child busy. It is difficult to engage a child, and perhaps a TV makes it much easier. But also in reality, “we get by” – and we don’t really have many organized activities for the child See that’s the other thing – not having an exposure to TV is one thing, but let’s also not overburden the child with multiple organized activities, like singing class, painting class, drawing class, cooking class, swimming class. It’s again pointless. A child will learn something from a class – that’s true. But the child’s body, at this tender age, gains the most through free play in the outdoors.
DD: It's heartwarming to hear parents vocalize concerns like this. This is at the heart of the work we do at ChildSafeMedia. So tell me, how do the other people in the family react to this? That's one of the painpoints in trying to MediaParent.
RS: Well, since I travel for work, my parents and in-laws are my support system. They come home and take care of R when I am traveling. They understand our logic and are supportive.
DD: So is it a complete media ban? Or do you allow some filtered content?
RS: R is now 4 and he goes to a Waldorf Network School. We don't actively get him to watch anything. I love the Jungle Book song – bare necessities and I was about to show it to him, but his teacher advised me against it. She has a 7 year old son who doesn't watch anything. We have found a very strong support system in her and she has been our guiding light.
DD: What about when you visit other people?
RS: If he's going to a friend’s house, mostly they are from the Waldorf network so the TV plays barely any part in their households too. Sometimes R may end up looking at it, and “a bit” of it, outside our own home, is acceptable to us. Often we just choose to meet outside the house. When, very rarely, we go out to restaurants, that’s when the ruckus happens. So we choose restaurants that have enough space or at least a garden space where children can just be – in our experience, closed spaces often backfire.
DD: Well, the problems of city living!
RS: R is now pestering me to get a dog. And I always respond by saying an apartment is no place for a dog. It needs lots of space. And then I realize we worry about a dog, but children too need a lot of space! Keep them outdoors. Outdoor spaces are important and thankfully we enjoy the outdoors all the time. In fact, one of the reasons we moved to Bangalore is the weather is lovely throughout the year . We aren't in the extremes of the weather spectrum. We are truly blessed.
DD: That’s true. But it isn't possible to be outdoors all the time.
RS: Yes, that’s true. The little time that we spend at home, we are constantly building lego blocks, gardening in our balcony garden, watering the plants, digging the soil, engaging in simple origami, or these days, we have even started to doodle (on the doodle pro). However, I must add that Waldorf doesn't teach reading or writing - they believe no fine motor skills till the physical development is complete (age of 6). Occasionally we also do some home carpentry which R seems to enjoy a lot and then we see that evolve into his play. We take each day as it comes.
DD: Many parents believe technology helps children stay ahead. What would you say to that?
RS: Well, one could argue that there are many ideas coming from TV. Why reinvent the wheel. But the other argument is that we don't even know what’s not been invented. So why would we want to bias the child? Yes, sometimes I wonder - are we living in an island? But the answer to that, I feel, is let your child interact with as many children as possible. In addition, today we cannot predict the technology that will take over the world in a few years time. So let the child just be – I think that is the best way to cope with the changes that are coming up. Outdoor play helps children exercise leadership, teach games to one another, take turns, resolve conflicts and sometimes even learn negoatiation and conflict resolution in order to keep the play going.
DD: Thank you so much Rasna! Good luck on your MediaParenting journey and we'll surely peep in again to see how you guys are doing and for some inspiration!
And you dear reader, what is your MediaParenting journey? What are your fears? Where do you ace it? Where do you struggle? Do share with us in comments or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.