To combat the millennial and post-millennial addiction of screens, there is a need to replace it with a timetable that takes people closer to nature and people in real life.

In this digital age, children are virtually born with a condition called screen addiction. Children are glued to the screens that apparently provide them ease of access and keep them busy. They cannot take their eyes off it and some of them cannot even swallow a single bite without staring at a screen.

Since they are too young to comprehend the implications of this condition, it is mostly up to their parents to wean them off the screens of the various electronic devices available to them, and offer them alternative options.

condition, it is mostly up to their parents to wean them off the screens of the various electronic devices available to them, and offer them alternate options.

In this rapidly evolving electronic age, with the advent of internet and its diverse uses, it has become harder than one can imagine to keep away from various screens. Its trouble-free availability and numerous advantages have enslaved people of every age.

In order to combat this addiction, five-year-old Zainab and eight-year-old Hussain have worked out a schedule with the guidance of their parents. They have tried to eliminate the excessive use of electronic devices and replace it with a timetable that takes them closer to nature and people in real life.

Zainab and Hussain’s parents realise that if they are not taught to spend and enjoy their leisure time constructively, the screen will fill the void. Of course, realistically speaking, screens are a dynamic part of life today, and they should not and cannot be cut out completely. But only a healthy balance is the way to go about things.

The family plans out their week in such a way that they can enjoy a variety of social, intellectual and physical activities which are essential for an all-round development of a well-balanced personality, and minimise screen time as much as they can. Keeping the leisure time occupied with such interesting activities, they start their week with enthusiasm and active minds.

The children begin their day at school and stay there for almost half of the day, where they are encouraged by their parents and teachers to take part in extra- and co-curricular activities such as sports, project work, elocution and school plays. Their minds, along with their bodies, remain active and healthy with the constant attempts to learn while having fun at the school. Instead of sticking around screens, children play at school, run actively in the ground, make new friends to socialise and learn through experiencing everything themselves.

On the long ride to and from school, instead of using screens to play video games, they appreciate the city life and nature by looking out for interesting billboards, vehicles, clouds, trees, flowers and birds along the way.

Once a week, Hussain goes to a football club near his house, from 4pm to 6pm, for football practice. His football coach has taught him kicking, shooting, passing and defending, as forward, striker and goalie. He eagerly waits for this time of the week when he can learn new skills of his favourite game and enjoy while keeping himself active and healthy.

After school when they get home, an important part of the day is spent in showering and changing, having lunch, resting, recounting the day’s events and doing their homework. During the rest of the time that is left before bedtime, Zainab and Hussain apportion it with enough activities to balance the screen time.

The children have an art corner stacked with a plethora of paraphernalia from the world of colours and craft: colour pencils, markers, crayons, paints, brushes, sketchbooks, colouring books, art pads, craft paper, glitter, glue, scissors and easel, to name a few. Without the worry of messing around, they paint with their imagination and experiment with their artistic skills. This colourful corner and its activities are all full of fun and cause no harm to their eyesight as well.

Zainab says she wants to be an artist when she grows up, and she loves to paint images of flowers, princesses and castles. Hussain uses colouring as a cool-down activity, to practice increasing his attention span and attention to detail.

Reading is another habit that their parents are helping them develop. A reading corner in their room has a small cosy sofa and a bookshelf full of interesting books, some brand new and others bought from second-hand shops. Their aunts and cousins also gift them books to highlight the value of reading. Sometimes, they become so engrossed in a book that they cannot leave it without reading it till the last page. At bedtime, they snuggle in bed with their parents and bond over books.

Twice a week they go for tennis to the club where their father is a regular tennis player. The coaches teach them how to move about nimbly on the court, how to hit the ball with smashes and backhands, and how to score an advantage over their opponents.

Another energising physical activity for them is swimming. From the children’s pool, they have progressed to the shallow end of the adults’ pool, where they swim with life-jackets under the supervision of their father. He teaches them different strokes like backstroke and free-style, and plays games like touching the pool floor. They love swimming like fishes and wish to see the real underwater world someday.

When the afternoons are cooler, they play outdoors. They ride their bikes, race and play hide-and-seek, etc. While playing, they always tend to forget the limited time they have been allowed to play outside. But one strict rule in the family is that when they step outside, they must always be back home before it’s dark and they must go under adult supervision, who can be a trusted aunt or older female cousin. So Zainab and Hussain have to spend some time coaxing, cajoling and convincing their aunts or cousins to play outdoors with them.

In the evening, their mother often takes them to the nearby park where they run around with other children from the neighbourhood, play hide-and-seek and take turns on the park slides, swings and rock-climbing wall. After all the activities, a stop to buy roasted corn from the cart outside the park is a must.

Sometimes, the parents take them to the beach where they ride the buggies and those horses that don’t seem to be suffering from any kind of infection. They try to find clean spots on the beach strip where they can play on the sand.

On hotter days, they stay indoors and play boardgames like checkers. Hussain has become so skilled at playing checkers that he can easily challenge his older cousins. He is also an avid Lego fan, and he and Zainab can spend hours happily creating highways, buildings, jungles and superhero sets with their Lego pieces.

Besides all these fun activities, the children have regular Quran lessons when a qari comes to their home. The qari sits with them in the lounge under the supervision of their mother. Zainab has memorised various Surahs, while Hussain has learnt to read and also memorised some short Surahs and is on his first Juz of the Holy Quran.

On Saturdays, when everyone is at home, the children spend time with their father.

Once a week, they visit their grandparents and cousins, to not miss out on all the extra love, care, attention and pampering.

In order to spend more quality time together, the parents prefer to do their grocery shopping on weekends from malls with supermarkets. This gives the chance for children to help the parents in a chore that becomes a fun family activity. And after that, the family moves around the mall, with Zainab and Hussain often running around or playing in the indoor gaming zone. Then they eat at the food court and return home.

Following this schedule, Zainab and Hussain are able to spend their days productively while enjoying every bit of it. From their studies to social interactions, everything is organised, yet not boring and monotonous. They spent their time experiencing life in real and not through the limited world of screens. With the help of their parents, they are utilising and balancing their life with limited use of digital screens.

After this balance of physical and intellectual activities, Zainab and Hussain are then free to use technology in whatever time is left, provided the content is suitable for their age and approved by their parents. With pro-active parenting, they have a chance to grow into healthy, happy adults. Certainly in their circle of family and friends, they are known to be happy, confident, well-behaved and loving children.

Published in Dawn, Young World, November 10th, 2018