Overuse Of Devices And Digital Dementia

Set screen-time limits for children

Parents need to ensure that children balance screen time with time spent in nature


Digital devices are everywhere. Many parents continue to use them as a babysitting tool.

Yet, no one knows what amount of usage will harm the brain.

"Different people may have different sensitivities. It varies from child to child as to how much is too much," said Dr Gary Small, a brain fitness health expert who is a psychiatry professor in the United States.

"People need to be aware of the child's reaction to the use."

Although there is no data on this, experts agree that the solution is not to ditch the device but to use it appropriately.

"Digital abstinence is not a long-term solution as our children will inherit a digital world," said digital parenting expert Kristy Goodwin, who has written a book, Raising Your Child In A Digital World.

What parents need to do is set screen-time limits and balance screen time with time spent in nature, she said.

Children, she said, have seven basic needs - sleep, relationships, language, play, nutrition, physical movement and executive function skills. "If their basic needs are met every day, we can be assured that screen-time is unlikely to have a detrimental impact on their health, development and learning."

The American Academy of Paediatrics said that media, including television and smartphones, can affect how children feel, learn, think and behave.

This is what it recommends:


•Choose high-quality programming.

•Avoid solo media use.

•Media use should be very limited and only when an adult is standing by to co-view, talk and teach. For example, video-chatting with the family, along with parents.


•Limit screen use to not more than an hour per day.

•Find other activities for your children to do that are healthy for their minds and bodies.

•Choose media that is interactive, non-violent and educational.

•Co-view or co-play with your children.


•Do not feel pressured to introduce technology early. Media interfaces are intuitive and children can learn quickly.

•Monitor children's media. For example, be aware of what apps are used.

•Turn off the television set and other devices when not in use. Background media can distract from parent-child interaction and child play, which are both very important in child language and social-emotional development.

•Keep the bedroom, mealtimes and parent-child playtimes screen-free and unplugged for the children and parents.

•Avoid exposure to devices or screens an hour before bedtime.

•Avoid using media as the only way to calm your children. This could lead to problems with a child's own ability with setting limits and managing emotions.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2016, with the headline Set screen-time limits for children. Subscribe