UAE parents say
- Children get bored easily
- The third parent
- Convenience: It’s the easy way out
- Content has to be monitored and access has to be timed
Dubai: Restless toddler in a restaurant? Usually a parent will be quick to hand them a phone and the situation is under control as the familiar “baby shark” tune starts playing softly.
Parents across the UAE and the world, have often found themselves guilty of using a screen to distract toddlers or young children. A tablet nanny is sometimes a tired mum’s go-to solution for that quick nap or to feed a fussy eater. Gulf News spoke to UAE parents to find out what they feel on the issue.
Filipina expat Riza Gochuico is against using technology to nanny her three children. She said: “To be honest, I hate seeing children in restaurants and play areas using tablets. I always tell my children that we didn’t come out for them to be engrossed on their iPads.”
For Gochuico, physical activity is the key factor. She added: “... if you take your children to a birthday party or a park, they won’t ask for a phone or the iPad. But if you take them to a furniture shop, what would the children do while the parents are busy checking furniture?”
...if you take them to a furniture shop, what would the children do while the parents are busy checking furniture? When they don’t have activities to engage in, we end up letting them use our phones.
Children get bored easily
The 42-year-old financial controller added: “When they don’t have activities to engage in, we end up letting them use our phones.”
Lebanese mum Sanaa Osman agrees: “I have a five-year-old son, give him toys or a colouring book, he gets bored in a few minutes. Every day, all he wants to do is play the game Fortnite on the iPad.”
The third parent
Many parents also feel that technology comes as second nature to children now. Osman, 42 added: “Children feel outdated if we keep them away from technology. My son comes back from school crying because his friends crossed a new level or unlocked a new skin in the game that all his classmates are playing. And, it makes me feel like a bad mother for not letting them develop technological skills.”
Children feel outdated if we keep them away from technology...And, it makes me feel like a bad mother for not letting them develop technological skills.
She feels children these days live in a virtual world. Osman shared the experience she had with her 11-year-old daughter: “My daughter has two elder sisters and she was exposed to social media at a very young age. Just at 11, everything we do is on Instagram, there is just no privacy.”
Pakistani expat Anam Salim added: “I call it the third parent. A big part of it depends on the parents being available. We make sure at least one of us gives attention to the child when we both are home, but when one parent is not available, tech nannies come in handy.”
I call it the third parent. A big part of it depends on the parents being available... when one parent is not available, tech nannies come in handy.
Salim credits technology for helping her child walk. She said: “When my daughter was around a year and a half, I noticed her trying to walk, she had been struggling with it for a few days. I showed her a video of a child taking the first steps and she just copied. Within a few minutes she started walking.”
Salim feels it’s particularly helpful during meal time: “I try to ask my daughter to pay attention to her plate at the start of the meal, but once the screen is on, it’s a mindless exercise, the mouth just opens and closes. So, to a parent who doesn’t have a long time to feed the child, this becomes easier.”
Convenience: It’s the easy way out
Dubai-based dad, Huzaifa Maimoon, said: “It’s the easy way out. Children have a very short attention span. I have two-and-half-year old daughter, I give her Play-Doh, she will be engaged for 10 minutes. If I sit and play with her, she will continue for 45 minutes.”
Maimoon feels it’s an easier solution for parents who have other work to finish in a day, to hand over the child a screen and wrap up the work. He added: “My daughter follows my wife around all the time, wherever she goes, she keeps asking her mother questions. It’s not easy to finish things around the house if you are constantly engaging with the child’s curiosity. Sometimes there is no other way out, if you have to finish the work and return to paying attention to the child. Children want attention all the time.”
He feels his situation is still better. The 34-year-old businessman added: “I live in a joint family, so it’s fine for us, someone is always around to entertain the child. I imagine it will be much harder for working parents.”
He also feels it is the easier option. “When a parent has something to do, and there is no time to deal with tantrums, this is the best distraction.”
When a parent has something to do, and there is no time to deal with tantrums, this is the best distraction.
He recalled the time he had an accident and was immobilised for a few days, Maimoon’s wife had to accompany him to the hospital and give him a lot of attention. He said: “In that duration our child was engrossed in the screen for up to four hours on some days.”
Reduced screen time: The antidote to the guilt
On most days Maimoon and his wife are strict with the screen time they allow their daughter. “She only gets 30 to 45 minutes of screen time twice in a week.”
Dubai mum, Avantika Mathur Goel, said: “I have two children. One of them is just ten months old. Sometimes, when I need to give full attention to the baby, I give my five-year-old the iPad, but it is only for 15 to 20 minutes, when I am absolutely unable to pay attention to him.”
The 33-year-old is a stay-at-home mum and does not have a nanny to help her. She prefers engaging with her children herself and has to take the help of a tech nanny when there is no other choice.
I have two children. One of them is just two months old. Sometimes, when I need to give full attention to the baby, I give my five-year-old the iPad, but it is only for 15 to 20 minutes.
However, she feels it is unfair to judge parenting techniques. “Parenting is such a thing that you cannot be judgmental. Each child is different and has to be dealt with differently.”
Is it hypocrisy?
Watching a Netflix episode while having dinner doesn’t seem wrong when an adult does it, or playing a round of Candy Crush when you’re bored is not frowned upon. However, when a child is given access to videos or games, some people question it.
Goel feels people should stop parent shaming, she added: “It is hypocrisy to keep children away from technology. Our parents used to tell us stories to keep us engaged while eating or some families sit around televisions during meal time. It’s the same thing, just the medium has changed.”
Pakistani expat Anam Salim agreed. “My daughter is turning four, we give access to the TV. My husband and I are gaming parents and have two gaming computers at home. We give our daughter an hour of gaming time too. On a bad day her time online could become two hours.”
My husband and I are gaming parents and have two gaming computers at home. We give our daughter an hour of gaming time too.
Make it educational
What seems to be important to parents though is ensuring that the child is consuming safe and educational content online.
Avantika Mathur Goel said she monitors what her child is watching. She added: “I am particular that I give her educational games or videos, so the time she spends online is productive, and I don’t feel guilty about handing her the gadget.”
Anam Salim feels phones and iPads are more than nannying tools. She also gives her daughter educational games. “We actually make sure we pay for games to ensure quality and also so that unnecessary advertisements don’t pop up.”