How much screen time should we allow children?

KUALA LUMPUR 20 Septenber 2013. Mendidik anak-anak dari kecil untuk kejayaan di masa depan.-

THE school holiday is here again! I’m sure you will agree with me that school holidays are the best times of a student’s life. It’s a welcome breather — a break from the monotony of having to wake up early in the morning and prepare for school.

School holidays offer the opportunity for more family time and for parents to improve their communication and relationship with their children. Most parents I know have plans with their children — for a family vacation or other recreational activities.

All these are expected to bring the family closer together and should have a positive impact on the children’s well being.

In this digital age, there are also parents who believe that technology and gadgets are essential for a child’s development. That these devices are a good companion and teacher. Thus, they feel it is all right to allow their children almost unlimited screen time, as long as everyone is happy.

Screen time refers to any activity done in front of a screen, be it a television, computer, smartphone or tablet. It is a sedentary activity that requires very little energy or movement.

But, how much screen time is okay? And how much is too much?

Used wisely and in moderation, screen time offers a lot of benefits to viewers, in particular, the youth. Studies have shown that playing video games can boost their motor skills and other elements like problem-solving skills and memory boost. Other research has documented, qualitatively, that video games promote social interaction and friendships. The children make friends with other gamers, both in person and online. They talk about their games with one another, teach one another strategies and often play together, either in the same room or online.

But, it becomes bad when children use it excessively or they are exposed to screen time too early.

A study in South Korea has reported a delay in language-learning among children aged 24 to 30 months with time spent in front of a TV. Another study in Thailand reported children from 6 to 18 months who are exposed to the TV showed emotional reactivity, aggression and externalisation behaviours.

Dr Daniel Fung, chairman of the medical board at the Institute of Mental Health in Singapore said: “Too much screen time takes young children away from real human interaction. This can lead to impaired social learning and damage their  emotional development.”

Canadian addiction expert and author of Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids Dr Nicholas Kardaras said there were over two hundred peer reviewed studies that correlate excessive screen time to everything from ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) and depression, to anxiety and psychotic-like symptoms.

As with other technology usage, screen time is a double-edged sword. It’s bad when used excessively. I’m a firm believer that technology is good for everyone, including children. It is only bad when their screen time is not properly managed and disrupts eating and sleeping patterns, causes obesity and eroding social skills.

Perhaps, this school holiday is a good time to get our children to put away those gadgets and enjoy the world outside. While our weather may be humid and hot, the evenings are still great for a visit to the park for a walk. Let’s find alternatives to screen time for our children, such as building Lego blocks, solving puzzles, colouring, assembling car toys and dressing up dolls. Or, having family board games and hide and seek. The most important thing is to spend quality time with the family.


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