Kids to get early lessons in prudent use of gadgets

Cyber-wellness group in talks to run programme in PCF kindergartens

Pre-schoolers will soon learn how to use devices such as smartphones and tablets responsibly through programmes conducted by Touch Cyber Wellness.

The group received funding from the Inter-Ministry Cyber Wellness Steering Committee this month, and is in talks with PAP Community Foundation (PCF) kindergartens to conduct cyber-wellness programmes over the next two years. The committee declined to reveal the amount of funding for this project.

Touch Cyber Wellness is an arm of the non-profit Touch Community Services that focuses on educating youth and parents on proper use of the Internet.

It decided to extend its programmes to younger children as it found that many of the cyber-addiction or Internet-related issues in secondary school students stemmed from excessive use of gadgets while in primary school or even earlier.

Touch will also develop resources for parents and teachers to help their pre-schoolers adopt healthy cyber habits.

"Many parents are using smartphones and tablets as a nanny or to babysit children, so we need to start early in teaching them how to use these devices properly," said Mr Chong Ee Jay, assistant manager of Touch Cyber Wellness.

A National Institute of Education study released last Tuesday found that 65 per cent of preschoolers polled started playing with electronic devices before they turned three. The researchers observed 60 children from five pre-schools last year.

However, only 30 per cent of the parents had rules on how much "computer time" their children were allowed.

The study highlighted potential health risks, such as poor sitting postures and children straining their eyes by staring at electronic screens for too long, as well as social risks like gaming addiction and cyber-bullying.

Mr Chong said Touch conducted pilot runs of its programmes last year with about 50 pre-schoolers from the North East District and 20 similarly aged children of Great Eastern employees.

In the 11/2-hour programme, parents sat with their children as the pre-schoolers learnt about the dangers of gaming excessively through the use of sticker books, storytelling, and art and craft sessions. The coaches told stories adapted from real-life counselling sessions, while the pre-schoolers acted out scenarios and made their own decisions at critical points in the stories.

Besides these activities, the Touch programmes will tackle related topics such as what constitutes good online etiquette.

Ms Anita Low, director of Touch Cyber Wellness, said there are challenges in teaching such young children.

"Kids at a young age are naturally restless and easily distracted, and so we have to help the kids to learn through fun and play."

Ultimately, it is important to get support from parents to reinforce these good habits at home, she said. "Not only do parents need to control the kids' exposure to computers and the Internet, but they also need to be role models themselves."

Ms Yvonne Lee, 40, who is self-employed, agreed. Said the mother of three, including a five-year-old son: "Pre-schools may help to reinforce what the parents teach, but through those lessons, kids at that young age may not understand the negative consequences of being addicted to technology."

jantai@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Priscilla Goy

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