Forum: Giving children screen time without guilt

A little girl with a mobile phone.
A little girl with a mobile phone.PHOTO: ST FILE

Dr Tan Wei Beng has brought up salient points regarding use of screen time in children. (Too much screen time may hurt children, July 30). However, limiting screen time in this ongoing pandemic is a challenge for caregivers who have to engage children at home, especially during the recent school closures.

This can lead to heightened caregiver stress. Being realistic about screen time and recognising its qualitative aspects beyond a purely quantitative one are essential. Caregivers can adopt specific strategies to ensure that digital devices are used responsibly among children.

First, moderation is key. Screen time should be part of a balanced schedule, with care taken to ensure adequate time for sleep, meals, play and schoolwork as is age-appropriate.

As a guide, the American Academy of Paediatrics recommends limiting screen time in children between 18 months and six years to one hour per day, with no specific time recommendation for older children.

For children under 18 months of age, screen time has minimal benefits and is strongly not recommended apart from that involving live interaction, such as video-based phone calls.

Second, choosing age-appropriate content is essential. Of note, violent content and that with action-packed, fast-moving scenes have been shown to have greater implications on children's development than slow-paced, child-friendly content.

Caregivers are encouraged to treat screen time just like any other child activity and be involved in it - to guide children just like they would supervise them at a playground.

Third, co-viewing with children is encouraged. This helps to maintain parent-child interaction during the activity, which is one of the basic tenets of early childhood development. It also provides an opportunity for children to discuss content with their caregivers.

If watching with the child is not possible, intermittently checking in on him during and after the show to discuss what happened can be beneficial.

Technology is an asset during this pandemic to ensure that children remain connected to their extended families and peers. It can also give caregivers, who are likely to be struggling with multiple responsibilities, a much-needed break.

Caregivers should be aware of the benefits and potential ill effects of screen time and use it responsibly. For more information on screen time use in children, see:

Aishworiya Ramkumar (Dr)


Child Development Unit

Khoo Teck Puat - National University Children's Medical Institute

National University Hospital

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 08, 2020, with the headline 'Giving children screen time without guilt'. Print Edition | Subscribe