Screen- free Parenting : From One Mamma to Another

Hear it from the Mammas!

Screens have become a huge part of our lives in the last decade. This past year, the pandemic has isolated us even further, connecting us with the outside world only virtually. So, when we speak of ‘screen-free’ parenting, it might come across as a shocker for many parents. While each family knows what works best for them, this is a story of one family that opts out of screens for their child. This shows those of us who are curious how they make this choice work.


Hi Sunetra, tell us a little about yourself and your family.

We are a family of three with my husband Gokul and son Samvidh who is 3 ½ years old. Gokul works long hours and used to travel a lot for work. Even as he works from home now, he still gets only a few hours of free time in a day. So, for majority of the time it’s just Samvidh and me. I completed my AMI Primary Montessori Diploma in 2016 and Samvidh was born soon after. I chose to take a break from work since we wanted one parent to be with our child full time in the initial years. Both sets of grandparents live close by and we visit them often, so, Samvidh spends a few hours a week with them too.

How would you define the role of screens in early childhood?

Ideally, I feel there is no role for screens in the first 2 years and should be avoided. Beyond a certain age, children start paying attention and get involved in what we do, so it may not be practically possible to keep them oblivious to screens. However, in early childhood, it is essential not to give any dedicated screen time.

What are some reasons why you opt out of screen-time for your child?

We feel that screens are addictive. When children watch videos or play games, they are so immersed in the device and become unaware of what is happening around them. Screens are usually used as a means of distraction or to get them to do some tasks which they would otherwise refuse. The instant gratification that the screen provides makes the child seek the same in everything they do and this comes in the way of learning patience and the ability to stay calm and wait. We read a lot about this and also observed it in some children around us. So, even before our son was born, we decided that we did not want any screen time for him.

How do you manage to stay screen-free even during a global pandemic?

We have not thought of screens as an option for Samvidh even though we are in the middle of a pandemic. We do have video calls with family and friends to avoid social isolation for us and him also limit the total time spent on it. I found that sticking to his usual routine as much as possible helped him to adjust to staying indoors and after the initial week or two he adapted quite well.

Top Shelf L – R : Lego Vehicles, Puzzles (a 3- 6 piece set and a 9 piece set) Kaleidoscope Middle Shelf L – R : Kitchen Set, Play Dough with Moulding Instruments, Beads to Lace Bottom Shelf L – R : Race Track with Small Cars, St of Vehicles, Notebook with Crayons & Pencils

During this pandemic, most of us are indoors working or seeking entertainment. How do you plan your own use of screens?

It can be very difficult to plan our screen usage especially as Samvidh is growing up, but we do try our best to keep it to a minimum around him. We absolutely avoid watching television when he’s awake. We also request grandparents and close relatives or friends to turn off televisions when we visit and they usually oblige. Work related laptop usage is unavoidable but we try to keep it at the study table so it’s not in Samvidh’s face. However phone usage is a bit tricky since we frequently check messages and do some reading on phones but we try to do it only when Samvidh is occupied with some play or reading and we make sure to put it away when he needs our attention.

How do you think screen-time affects language, attention and cognition in very young children?

Young children learn everything about life and culture from family first. They spend time with family members, going about their daily lives and automatically absorb language and social interactions and these become a part of them. Listening to and taking part in conversations with people around them provides a mutual interaction which helps them practice their vocabulary too. Some may argue that children learn language from educational videos but I feel it doesn’t give a chance for interaction and doesn’t help them to integrate with their environment. They actually become isolated. With fast moving images and sounds on screen children are just passive observers with zero effort which fails to create a lasting impression of knowledge.

If parents choose to give some screen-time, what would your recommendations on content be?

Content should be strictly filtered, controlled and monitored. As with books, it should be age appropriate and as close to reality as possible for younger children. Content should also be made available offline as much as possible (can download instead of streaming) and they should not be given free access to the internet. I’ve personally seen a lot of shockingly inappropriate content that children are able to access even by randomly swiping while watching videos.

Many parents find screen-time gives them a little respite. What would you suggest instead as an alternate?

I have found it most difficult to engage Samvidh when I have some work to be finished or when I’m really tired and need a break. It can also be very tough to keep a young child in a small enclosed apartment for long hours without frustration. Engaging him in the right kind of activities from the beginning has helped to develop independence in play and exploration. He does not have toys with bright lights and sounds but instead has a lot of puzzles, open ended toys like blocks and play dough, some pretend toys like cooking sets because he loves cooking and many options to colour or doodle. He also has a push car which he drives around the house and has a lot of imaginative play with. We have also been reading to Samvidh from the first few months of his life so he loves books and will sit and “read” them on his own when we can’t.

If he is still not interested in doing anything by himself and requires my attention, I try to involve him in whatever I’m doing by giving him little tasks that he will be able to help with. For example, putting things away or wiping tables if I’m cleaning or giving him small balls of chapathi dough to roll if I’m cooking.

Regular outdoor play time in the evenings help a lot to burn off excess energy and also helps to get through the tail end of his day when he would be tired and cranky if he has had to stay indoors the whole day. During these times of social distancing he’s unable to play with other children but still an hour or so of fresh air in the terrace makes a huge difference to his temperament in the evenings. We watch birds or plants around us and get some physical activity by walking/running around.

L to R : Easel, Bike, Sit and Spin

The pandemic has thrown families off schedule. Children are now indoors most of the time and lessons are happening on screens. How do you think this will impact children?

In these dire circumstances, schools have been forced to resort to online teaching and most children are now stuck in front of a screen for many hours a day. This in addition to being unable to leave the house will definitely be stressful for children in a way they’ve never experienced before. Children are also unable to express their frustration like adults which leads to changes in behaviour and unexpected outbursts. They really need strong support and understanding from adults to get through this tough period.

Is screen-free parenting a possibility? Share some motivation on why more parents must commit to this.

It’s definitely possible as long as we are willing to put in some effort and identify what our children need help with. Most parents introduce screen time in an effort to keep children quiet or sit in one place, or to make them do certain tasks like eating or to avoid tantrums or meltdowns. I feel that if we just take some time to think and understand what they actually need instead of distracting from the problem, it would help not only in that moment but in everyday life. Letting the child engage with the environment and become aware of what is going on around them feeds their curiosity and inquisitiveness which will help them further explore and understand their world better. This understanding also brings an air of calm and confidence since they have a deep connection with the environment. I feel all parents should try going screen-free for some time and see the wonderful effects it brings to the child which will be motivation enough to stay committed.

Savi Paaty Series : A Story on Compassion

Tribute to Storytelling

Savi Paaty Series is a tribute to oral stories. I have created this in memory of my beloved grandmother – Savi Paaty. Each story in the series is a story within a story. Although oral stories are becoming a lost art, it is time we revive and bring them back to life, into our homes and schools, back into our children’s lives. 

Here is a story of Apoo, Abi and Janu – three siblings who live in Coimbatore, India and love listening to Savi Paaty’s stories. Savitri Paaty, whom the children fondly call Savi Paaty, always parted her hair in the centre, wore bright silk sarees and used the pallu of the sarees to repeatedly polish her already sparkling diamond nose-pin. Apoo, the eldest of the three siblings at 8 years, loves playing basketball, spends most of her time out in the open, climbing trees, and sporting new scars on her knees every day. Abi, at 7 years is Apoo’s closest confidant. He loves his cars and precious mechanic set. He never fails to bring the set out, screw, un-screw and explore the parts of his dashing wheels collection. Janu, the youngest at 5 years, tries hard to join in with her siblings in climbing trees and fixing cars, but secretly loves playing with her kitchen set and making ‘green-medicine’ with the fallen leaves on the porch.


It was late July, the monsoon had been pouring in Coimbatore and the trees and grass in the city were sparkling with a coat of fresh leafy green. With the heavy rains, as people in Coimbatore had grown to expect, came the flu season and both Apoo and Abi had caught the flu one after the other. They were recovering from a combination of cold, cough and a fever and were advised complete rest by their doctor. Little Janu had been upset that the flu had left her out of the pack, since, it seemed to her, the duo were having much too fun in their resting room with no school or homework to be bothered with, while she had multiplication homework and a test to tackle by Monday. Janu watched longingly as Amma carried bowls of warm soup and bread in the evening and warm, mashed rasam rice with ghee late in the morning and went back to her looming math homework with dread.

Suddenly, to Janu’s delight, an idea flashed in her head! She realised that with her siblings unwell, she could try her hand at some of the new toys that she had been eyeing for months. The dreadful day turned into a field day. Janu threw herself at all the new toys, like a child in a candy shop. One moment she was wheeling away Abi’s scooter round and round the living room, whiffing past Savi Paaty whom she thought would notice her zip. The next moment, she set the scooter aside and ran to fetch Apoo’s brand new badminton racket and was waving it in the air trying to strike the cork. Janu paused and looked at Paaty in delight but noticed that, oddly, her Paaty hadn’t noticed and was rather busily chanting prayers with the ஜெபமாலை (prayer beads) twirling at a rapid pace. She then went on to try her hand at the other forbidden items belonging to her siblings – a handful of puffed rice in Abi’s blue spiderman bowl and lastly Apoo’s orange and purple sunglasses. It was then that she noticed two crows cawing loudly from the balcony. Janu was familiar with the crows, they were usual visitors in their house and came promptly every morning for their feed. As a routine, Amma would keep hot rice and dal in the yard for the crows every day and just as expected, they were on time. If Amma was delayed, as she was today with her two kids still recovering, they would caw loudly and remind her that they were hungry too. 

The pair of cawing crows drew Janu’s attention and she ran to the balcony to watch them. She stood behind the glass door to the outdoors and saw one of the crows cawing with eyes focussed on her. The other was hopping up and down on the railing of the balcony and joining in the hunger call. Janu wondered to herself what the crows were cawing about when Amma came with a plate of hot rice and dal and opened the door to the balcony. The pair of birds flew from the balcony and perched themselves on the guava tree and watched patiently.  The moment the door was shut, Janu saw the birds fly back to the meal and peck at it instantly. The whole unfolding of activities delighted her and she ran to Paaty and declared, “Paaty, paaty, when I become a big girl, I will also feed the crows like Amma.”  The statement seemed to finally put a smile on her grandmother’s face and she stroked her granddaughter’s messy hair and said, “Do you know why we feed the crows every morning?” Janu was elated and wanted to hear more. She called out to Apoo and Abi from her grandmother’s lap and out came the pair of them,  excited to hear a story to brighten up their otherwise sombre weekend.

Paaty began, “Every morning, Amma feeds the birds rice and dal before feeding even you children because there is  a belief that our kollu thatha and paaty (great grandparents in Tamil) come in the form of the crows to eat and bless us.” Abi giggled and looked at the birds polish off the last of the dal and rice and asked Paaty, “Oh Paaty, does that mean Ramu thatha is now a crow and has come to eat parupu sadham? (dal rice)”  Apoo and Janu looked instantly at their grandmother to see her response when Paaty smiled and continued, “While this is the belief, Paaty has her own views on why we feed these birds.” The children shared a proud moment when they realised their Paaty had her own take on such big matters. Paaty continued, ” Our pithrus (ancestors) wanted to teach us to be compassionate towards all living beings and our mother earth. So, as a simple daily practice, we draw kolam (rangoli with rice flour done traditionally in most South Indian homes) in the mornings to feed the tiny ants, we grow tulasi with care and water it every day to value and respect plants.”  Paaty went on as the children listened in rapt attention, “Have you seen when we visit Gobi (Gobichettipalayam is a small town about 80 kilometres from Coimbatore) ,we always feed the cows every morning and Amma pours milk into the snake nest to feed even the snakes which we all fear?” The children nodded and Paaty said, “All of this is to embrace these living beings and not hurt them. Through these simple daily practices, our pithrus wanted to tell us to live harmoniously with all beings.” She concluded, “That is also why we feed the crows every morning.” 

The children were moved by the story and wanted to start pitching in instantly. Janu ran up to her Amma and said, “Amma, can I feed the crows from tomorrow?” while Apoo and Abi decided they would learn to draw kolams from Amma. Having made their decisions, Apoo and Abi started discussing what they would draw for the ants while Savi Paaty went back to chanting prayers for her two grandchildren to recover from the flu.