Let’s do a little experiment. Just take a few minutes and take your mind through all the time you have walked into a shopping mall, or waited at the tailor’s or went grocery shopping or just spent a normal afternoon at home with family. What jumps out? If you cant remember, take a little walk around your block now, or observe people around you wherever you are. Especially kids.
What did you see?
I am willing to wager that you saw heads partly bent, eyes glued to a screen, voices sinking into a digital abyss when spoken to, responses limited to half-hearted ‘ummms’, heads lifting reluctantly- very reluctantly only when something in the real world literally screamed at them for attention.
Studies have shown that our children spend over half their ‘awake time’ on screens. This phenomenon is so unique to our generation that child health researchers and doctors are having to come up with a new set of rules for parents to monitor their kids’ screen time. Yet, this is proving to be a double-edged sword- surveys have shown that while parents are concerned about their kids’ screen time, they also welcome the relief it provides from constantly watching over kids, creating a vicious cycle of digital toxicity from a very young age.
One parent saw this trend taking over her children’s lives and decided to do something about it. Ishwarya Kumar Ahmed, a mother of 2 and founder of Upturn Learning conceptualized the Digital Detox program for children to combat this rising problem.
Digital Detox is a 40-hour program that kickstarted during the summer- but this is not your typical ‘summer camp.’ Ishwarya knew full well the challenge she faced from the pull of the digital world, and that she needed to counter it with an equally weighty attraction in the opposite direction. And so she brought in over 7 mentors who guided the children through sessions of superhero play, theatre, baking, photography, gardening, writing and astronomy. She even collaborated with a 13-year old entrepreneur, Smaran RK- founder of The Indigo Tent.
When asked how she got started with the idea, Ishwarya said, “My children used to clock high screen time, this was hitting me hard as a parent. I created a support system and put some serious effort into it, the results were magical. My children today have scheduled screen time which does not exceed an hour mostly in a day. We don’t depend on gadgets for mealtime, travel, waiting in lobbies, etc. I got immense confidence that this is for good and wanted to see how big this issue really was. When I looked around ..the pain area was writing on the wall and Digital Detox by Upturn Learning was born!”
On why “Digital Detox” has sustained its effects
The effects have lasted longer than anticipated. Many children from the first program have embarked on various unique detox modes, some have written their own songs, some are writing the first few chapters of their book, some talk about parents and children painting together, some are all out to make their own kitchen garden!
“We continue to engage with the children as a community. We engage with the children in physical meetups( not digital) and the parents are engaged with articles on involved parenting. This gives me immense hope,” says Ishwarya.
On what needs change for a meaningful digital detox
“The children are open to newer associations, they are happy to put that tab or phone away, it is the parents who fail to model a life away from gadgets and this shows on the children. It can’t be done by involving just children, parents and children (both) need to be involved” rues Ishwarya.
Isn’t digital life an integral part of their futures?
“I believe that digital is inevitable but at the same time Detox is also not impossible! The balance is key. I don’t believe that digital is bad, I just believe that the balance is the key ingredient” says Ishwarya.
I guess a lot of people were looking for that elusive balance. The first digital detox session( conducted in Bangalore) was such a huge success that Ishwarya is now planning to roll it out in other cities as well. Since the summer is now over, she is planning to pan it out over 10 weekends in half-day sessions.
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When asked what she aspires for the future, Ishwarya quips, “I aspire to keep childhood an ordinary affair with simple ordinary pleasures.”