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Opinion I Say no without fear or guilt

Compelled by the stressful changes brought on by the pandemic in their children's routines, most parents feel guilty or afraid of saying no, especially when it comes to screen time and gaming. This, however, can only lead to unwanted consequences.

Children in a sizeable number, have gotten hooked onto gaming. Spending too much time on the bed or couch has made them more sedentary and reclusive.
Children in a sizeable number, have gotten hooked onto gaming. Spending too much time on the bed or couch has made them more sedentary and reclusive.

The last few months have been tough on children, to say the least. The ongoing pandemic has brought with it high stress levels among care-givers, changes in the school experience, no playground time and no meeting friends the usual way. This qualifies for a number of global studies on psychological and behavioural manifestations in children.

Needless to say, our little ones are experiencing a myriad of emotions. They are pushing boundaries in boredom and exploring the world of technology at a premature age. Parents, of course, are not immune to stress. They are struggling with their own anxieties, work, family and personal pressures in the shadow of the life-changing pandemic.

Shwetambara Sabharwal
Shwetambara Sabharwal

Recognising the stressful changes in children’s routines, parents are feeling compelled to make allowances. Understandably so, there are sympathetic permissions being given and guilt-laden compensation in terms of privileges. A number of concerned and hassled parents have been calling, reporting evidence of changes in mood and disposition in their children over the last couple of months. They report agitation, crankiness, tearfulness and even aggression if certain buttons were pressed.

Children in a sizeable number, have gotten hooked onto gaming. Not all children who are playing are addicted. But spending too much time on the bed or couch has made them more sedentary and reclusive. You can find some kids neglecting homework, avoiding physical exercise and being unable to entertain themselves without gaming.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) officially recognised "gaming disorder" as a mental health condition recently, adding the disorder to the International Classification of Diseases, or the ICD-11, the Organisation's official Diagnostic Manual.

However, take a deep breath before jumping to conclusions: the symptoms need to be present for twelve months to amount to a diagnosis of gaming addiction.

While I would refrain from self-diagnosing or labelling my child, it’s necessary to be aware of the symptomatology. This includes talking about their game incessantly, playing for hours, getting defensive, angry and/or aggressive when made to stop. Basic routine of food and sleep gets disrupted and physical symptoms range from dry or red eyes and headaches to back or neck pain and complaints of stiffness in fingers.

Children start appearing agitated, preoccupied, depressed, impulsive or isolated. Them finding it difficult to stay engaged in class and the work completion cycle gets impacted. Some children are not able to pursue their interests actively and are unable to connect socially with family and friends unless it’s during gaming.

Most parents I am talking to regarding gaming boundaries sound guilty or afraid of saying no. They want to make things easier for their children by avoiding further disappointment during these tough times. This is so natural, with the intention to be protective, but I assure you, it is precipitating unwanted consequences.

You do not have to feel guilty for them having to go through this world crisis. They do not need our guilt, they need guidance. They do not need sympathy, they need support. Instead of compensating or trying to cheer them up, talk about coping effectively and making healthy choices.

Set boundaries without fear of disagreement. The ensuing disappointment can be dealt by active listening and communication. As much as I love to learn from parenting literature, I believe a lot of it has led us to become hypersensitive and guarded about the hurt we can cause by saying no. It's imperative for us to communicate no tolerance for disregarding health and safety. As parents, we need to develop the confidence and conviction that we will not harm our kids if we limit entertainment that impacts health, mood and accountability at school.

The challenging manifestations in mood and behaviour are in fact opportunities to teach them alternative ways of emoting, coping with anger, sadness and perceived loneliness.

Watch your own screen habits in front of them. Set time limits for gaming and stick to them. Talk about the need for exercise and encourage activity during the day. Avoid gadget use after 7 pm for children. Pin up visual reminders in the form of notes. Plan a screen free day for everyone in the family and talk about the resulting feelings. You will be surprised how quickly they will move from “torture", “unfair" and “injustice" to “not bad" and even “fun".

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