Technology is something that many of us have a love-hate relationship with; we cannot live without it, but we also lament its existence at times. This is especially true in recent months as lockdown measures have been enforced, forcing parents and their children to stay home. Parents now must juggle work and assist their children with their home-based-learning.

Statistics show that children are enjoying screen time at a young age

Even before these trying times, a prevailing number of parents have already begun using tablets and smartphones to keep their children occupied. In fact, a study conducted by the Pediatric Department at Einstein Healthcare Network in Philadelphia, on 370 parents of toddlers aged 6 months to 4 years, revealed that one in three children learnt how to operate a smartphone and/or tablet before he or she is able to walk and talk. On average, one in four 2-year-olds would play with his smartphone at least an hour a day.

Closer to home, a study by KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) and the National University of Singapore found that children are exposed to smart devices from an early age. Over 50% of respondents were introduced to smartphones or tablets before the age of 2 and a startling majority (over 95%) of pre-schoolers enjoyed more screen time than is recommended by paediatric specialists.

Adverse effects of screen time on a child’s development

Based on the same study conducted by KKH and the National University of Singapore, which was conducted on a subject pool consisting of 367 children between the age of two to five years old, parents and guardians reportedly observed the following behaviour:

About 75% of the children suffered from sleep problems and 60% exhibited emotional and/or behavioural difficulties.

In a separate study published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health on 500 children aged between two to five years old over a period of 4 years, it was found that increased screen time resulted in a less active lifestyle. When the study subjects were five years old, they were given an activity tracker which examined their physical activity and sleep routine over a period of 7 days. Their screen time activity had already been recorded when the children were two years old and three years old prior to the introduction of this activity tracker into the study.

The subject pool spent an average of 2 and a half hours daily either watching television, using the computer/laptop, and/or were on a smartphone or tablet. The study revealed that those who enjoyed more than three hours of screen time a day spent more time sitting down and doing less physical activity than those who had less than one hour of daily screen time.

Suggestions on how you can reduce your child’s screen time

✔ Teach by example

As with everything else that you want to teach your children, be it personal hygiene or social conduct, the best method to effectively do so is by setting a healthy example for them as parents. Sure, it may be difficult to pull yourself away from that new Netflix series or the latest offering on Steam but remember that your child mirrors what you do. So, if you want your child to spend less time on electronic devices, you will have to make the effort to do the same.

✔ Encourage other interests

Young children thrive in stimulating environments as that enables them to learn more effectively. Therefore, it is impossible to expect them to respond positively when they have their smartphone or tablet taken away from them. The most useful way to deal with this is by introducing and engaging them in other activities and to nurture their interests.

✔ Set up a positive and supportive environment

A strong support system is required for anyone to succeed. In this case, you can make these changes to assist your child in dialling back on their screen time.

  1. No television during mealtimes
  2. No screen media in the bedroom – this includes computers/laptops, television and tablets
  3. Encourage your child by praising him/her or providing a small reward whenever he/she chooses a non-screen activity

Ideas on engaging your child at home sans screen time

Contrary to common belief, successfully engaging your children without the use of tablets or smartphones does not necessarily mean that you will have to set aside a lot of your time. There are many ways to keep your child busy while being productive in the house at the same time.

1) Involving them in household chores

This not only keeps the little ones busy, but also instils in them a sense of responsibility. You can teach them to wash vegetables and fruits for you in the kitchen, pick out edibles from the garden, help with changing the bed sheets, or even with bathing the dog!

2) Craftwork

Painting, origami or designing a birthday card for a family member or friend are great ways to bring out the little Van Gogh in every child. They also help in building fine motor skills and coordination. These activities encourage them to express themselves creatively in a healthy manner and keep them occupied for hours at a time with little supervision required.

3) Reading

The benefits of reading are endless but the ones that matter to children of a pre-school age include stimulating imagination and creativity, improving memory and concentrating, building vocabulary by learning new words, and allowing the child to learn new things.

4) Play outside

A trip to the nearby park or to the beach is a great way for the entire family to bond and to introduce your child to the wonders of nature. You can cycle together, play in the sand (building sandcastles will stimulate your child’s creativity), observe and identify the various plants around you and let your child improve their social skills by letting them run free and play with other children in the playground.

For more information on resources and training on how to engage your child, please contact us.

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