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We made our child a TV addict

Wambui Sila gave her toddler unlimited screen time. Slowly by slowly, the child became obsessed with watching TV

When Wambui Sila’s son, Trav was about nine months old, she and her husband started letting him watch cartoons. It was partially because they thought he’d enjoy it and also because Wambui worked from home and she needed a way to distract him, especially in the mornings, so she could work.

“I’m generally a strict follower of rules when it comes to parenting; however, there was one thing that my husband and I knowingly ignored.

At first, we were careful to limit Trav’s TV watching to an hour or two in a day and only a few selected shows. But over time we got a little lazy. One hour turned into two, occasionally three and before we realised, it was happening several times a week. Before we knew it, our now five-year-old was solidly addicted to TV and we had a major uphill battle to fight,” the mother of two recalls.

Wambui couldn’t explain why they weren’t concerned about their child TV time at first. They thought that Trav’s TV watching was a temporary thing and wouldn’t have long-term consequences. But in the course of him growing up, they saw him become increasingly obsessed.

“The remote was the first thing he’d ask for in the morning when he woke up and when we wouldn’t let him watch what he wanted throughout the day, he would throw tantrums, bang his head over surfaces or throw himself over. He preferred watching TV to playing with his toys. Whenever we would want to watch news bulletin, it ended up in screams and fights.

The TV became his. We couldn’t watch anything of our choice,” she says. So, Wambui took action. For the past few years, she has been working on reducing Trav’s screen time to an hour or less per day, which has been quite a struggle as much as he’s now in school. The first step she took was to be firm with her decision.

After school, Trav can watch one episode of a cartoon and afterwards, no TV. She took all the tablets away to make her move successful. This is obviously easier said than done with a five-year-old. Wambui has come up with ways to keep him occupied after school and also on the weekends.

When Trav starts asking for TV, she engages him by reading storybooks or colouring. Sometimes she would make him arrange his books. Most times, it’s a struggle as the boy doesn’t want to be kept away from the TV.

Secondly, depending on the time of the day, the mother let him play outside to divert his attention. Over time they found out that being strict with what he’s watching has gradually decreased his urge to watch TV.

“He has now learnt that there is time for TV and school work. He knows there’s no screen time before homework. He’s more willing to play with his toys and he often request to go outside to play. Slowly the addictive behaviour has subsided,” she adds.

“It’s important to us that our children can play on their own and with other children, that they stay active instead of sitting inside in front of a TV. Screen time didn’t seem like a big deal at first, but we’ve come to realise that any potential educational benefits as well as the entertainment value just weren’t worth the consequences to our son’s development and overall attitude,” she concludes.

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