By Umm Khalid
I completely understand this parental concern. We live in an age, unfortunately, where entertainment is tantamount to plopping yourself and your kids in front of the screen.
Screens = Fun
But this model was not always the case. In previous generations, entertainment came in many forms and none of them involved a screen.
Even today, much research has been done and much ink has been spilt to detail the deep harms that come with screentime for children, especially at a young age.
I did not grow up watching TV, even though this was the norm in Egypt when I was growing up. Almost everyone had a TV, and most families gathered around their screen to watch أفلام ومسلسلات (movies and soap operas/ TV shows and dramas). This was standard practice in Egypt even with our relatives and neighbours.
But my father, may Allah reward him immensely, had a different mindset. He saw this as a big waste of time, precious time that could be used elsewhere either to be productive or to have fun but in a non-screen way. He also worried about the impact it have on his daughters (my sisters and I) to see women dressed without hijab (even though the way women dressed on TV in Egypt in the 1980s and 90s was nothing compared to how women dress now!). But he knew that whatever the eye consumes has a big impact on the heart and mind. My father called the TV مُفْسِديُون (a play on the word for TV in Egyptian Arabic, تلفزيون), roughly like “Mufsid-vision,” meaning that which brings fasad, or destruction.
So he put our TV in the closet, unplugged and unused.
I think this is one of his most brilliant parenting strategies mashaAllah!
So after becoming a parent myself, I’ve followed suit. My husband and I do not allow our children to watch TV or be on a screen of any kind.
Especially these days, even so-called children’s shows and cartoons are riddled with subliminal messaging and deep social engineering on issues like LGBTQ+-×÷ and tabarruj and promote disrespect and defiance to parents, and deviance in general. TV shows on Netflix or HBO or whatever other platforms are basically avenues for smuggling in all the most damaging, fitra-warping, nature-altering liberal ideas into the heart and mind of the viewer. It’s nothing short of mass brainwashing.
What is also quite sad and even dangerous is that after enough acclimation to screens, it becomes an actual addiction. There are studies that show that children as young as one and two years old get addicted to screens, and if parents attempt to take away these devices, children show classic signs of withdrawal! This is what happens with drugs, for example. When a drug user stops using, he or she experiences painful withdrawal symptoms. TV for children can become similar. Turning off the TV after the show has ended can often result in crying, screaming, and temper tantrums.
The other bad thing about a screen is that it trains children to be passive recipients instead of active doers. On the screen, characters parade themselves before the children’s eyes, there are bright lights and loud sounds and flashing images. So easy to sit back and be passively amused. Next to this lively entertainment, how can reading a book compete? Now reading a book looks dull and boring in comparison. Writing your own story is now too much work. It is in this way the screens tend to stunt creativity and initiative in children.
And for us as Muslims, an over-reliance on screens can be an obstacle to Quran. How can memorizing Quran compete with the easy passive fun of watching TV? Memorizing Quran will seem that much harder and more arduous, that much less fun, next to the TV. Without the blaring distraction that is the screen, Quran is much more doable and even enjoyable inshaAllah.
Sometimes either my husband or I will show the kids a specific video on a certain topic (animals, nature, or what subject they might be learning about like tornadoes or earthquakes, etc), but it’s always with us, supervised and educational.
And it’s a one-off, not a regularly scheduled event.
Our kids have no expectations for having a certain amount of TV time or screen time a day or a week or a month. This can be achieved by training the kids and by being consistent with the rules so the kids do not feel confused.
So then: what do the kids do for entertainment?
🌻 We go outside very often and let the kids run and play, go swimming. One of my kids is a big climber and loves to climb trees. Invariably, the boys find some good sticks and tree branches and use them as swords, and have mock battles (غزوات).
🌻 The kids love to read books and sometimes try to “write” their own books complete with illustrations. Before they are literate, they just look at the pictures. We also read aloud to them sometimes.
🌻 We go on play dates to various parks with friends.
🌻 Sports (for my kids: soccer!)
🌻 At least once daily, I play with the kids (chasing and tickling games, lol). [I have an old post from a few years ago detailing the specific games I often play with them!]
🌻 But most of all, the kids invent games with one another. Alhamdulillah, that’s one of the benefits of having multiple children: they make up games together! They wrestle, race, and make up other ways to compete. This strengthens their creativity, initiative, and imagination.
When you have a big imagination, the possibilities for entertainment are vast!
But what we don’t do is rely on TV or screens for entertainment. Our entertainment is deliberately low-tech and old school.
I’ll end with this, as food for thought: many of the people who live in Silicon Valley and work at Google or other tech companies do not allow their own children to have any screens. They keep all their kids’ toys and entertainment low-tech. Interesting, no?