OPINION: Is screen time slowly replacing grandparents?

Thursday November 28 2019

Professor Zulfiqarali Premji

Professor Zulfiqarali Premji 

I grew up in the post-World War II world in the 50s and 60s when our world was a very different one. It is said that there was a bumper crop of children born after World War II, known collectively as the baby boomers.

We had a common radio on the Second Street in Tanga, and the music played on the radio was mostly rock and roll. We played outside until it went dark.

It’s hard to believe that only a few decades ago we were free to roam around outside completely unsupervised, and our parents never had to worry.

We’d be off for hours on end, with no way of letting mum know where we were, and we’d only pop home for a quick snack or a plaster for yet another grazed knee.

Imagination was our favourite toy – our imaginations meant adventure was everywhere. Parks, fields and streets became jungles, battlefields and racetracks.

In stark contrast, today’s children have grown up with a vast array of electronic devices at their fingertips. They can’t imagine a world without smartphones, tablets, and the Internet.


The advances in technology mean today’s parents are the first generation who have to figure out how to limit screen time for children. While digital devices can provide endless hours of entertainment and they can offer educational content, unlimited screen time can be harmful.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents place a reasonable limit on entertainment media.

Despite those recommendations, children between the ages of eight and 18 average seven and half hours of entertainment media per day, according to a 2010 study by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Ours was an extended family and everybody had his or her responsibilities. Elders always had a central role in the family and in the community. Today’s elders’ role has been taken over by google.com

Now things have changed and we’ve been struggling even more. Instead of having an elder at home, we’ve got the television. Screens are the ones dishing out information to us.

When grandchildren come home to their grandparents, in the first three minutes or so there are hugs and kisses, after that the young ones drift away with their smartphones and tablets.

This is indeed heartbreaking in a way. Probably 90 per cent of what the kids are consuming into their minds through screens is garbage.

Many parents struggle to impose healthy limits on kids and themselves too. It’s important to understand how too much screen time could be harming everyone in the whole family. There are many irreparable negative effects of too much screen time

There is childhood obesity because they engage in sedentary activity, such as watching TV and playing video games, and this puts them at risk of becoming overweight.

Although many parents use TV to wind down before bed, screen time before bed can backfire. The light emitted from screens interferes with the sleep cycle in the brain and can lead to insomnia.

Behavioural problems: Elementary school-age children who watch TV or use a computer more than two hours per day are more likely to have emotional, social, and attention problems.

Educational problems: Elementary school-age children who have televisions in their bedrooms do worse on academic testing.

Exposure to violent TV shows, movies, music, and video games can cause children to become desensitized to it. Eventually, they may use violence to solve problems and may imitate what they see on TV, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Most of the conversations about the dangers of screen time focus on children. But, it’s important to recognise that adults may experience many of the same harmful effects as well, like obesity and sleep problems.

There is an urgent need to establish family rules with electronics and digital devices. Telling your child to turn off his video games while you’re sitting in front of the TV won’t do anyone any good. It’s important for you to set healthy limits on your electronics use for your own sake, as well as your child’s sake.

Here are a few household rules you might want to establish to curb screen time: No digital devices during family meals. No screen time in the car.

No screens allowed in bedrooms and no electronics use during family fun nights.

In addition, consider an occasional digital detox for the whole family. Create a screen-free night once a week or commit to unplugging one weekend a month. It could be good for everyone’s physical and emotional health, as well as your family’s relationships.

Zulfiqarali Premji is a retired MUHAS professor. His career spans over 40 years in academia, research and public health.