As working parents, we find it hard to gather the energy to spend time with our children after a hard day’s work. With Singapore having one of the highest smartphone penetration rates in the world, we sometimes find it easier to pass our young kids a tablet or a smartphone as a distraction when we want some quiet time for ourselves.
Many studies and experts have talked about the dangers of using electronic devices for young children. However, these dangers do not lie with physical aspects such as radiation, heat or electromagnetic waves, but how the time spent in front of the screen will eat into active play-time that is vital to a child’s development.
Using time spent wisely
Children below the age of 12 are only awake for an average of 12 hours per day. Much of this time is taken away by school and its activities. These children are left with about 2-3 hours of rest time. If half of this time where important skills and quality time with family and friends can be developed are spent swiping away in front of a tablet, there is no time left for bonding and learning.
Both indoor and outdoor playing provides a stimulating environment that encourages children to be active and explore their abilities. Gross motor development, socialising skills and other side benefits are all part of active play which does not happen when children are using screen devices. Fundamental movement and manipulative skills, the basic skills that children develop in the early years through active play.
Mental abilities and capacities are also built through active playing, including cognitive development, emotional development, social development and physical development (controlling motor skills). All these areas of development work together to build healthy brains. When children are physically healthy, they are able to learn better in school. When children are physically active, they are better able to concentrate and problem solve.
Advised Screen Time for kids
Paediatric societies around the world have advised no screen time for toddlers under the age of two, one hour per day for children aged from one to two years and up to two hours per day for children below the age of five. As electronic gadgets have now become such an important aspect of modern living, it is impossible to fully ban children from using them.
Instead, moderation and guidance from parents is necessary. The use of electronic devices should then be moderated to provide interaction. Use these devices as a tool to interact with your child for a short while not just to entertain your child through video games and watching videos.
Parents should also ensure that entertainment time with these electronic devices is not the only thing that the children do as there are important skills and aspects that need to be developed from a young age.
Un-plugging to play with your child is not impossible even as a working parent.
Here are some simple guidelines that parents can keep in mind to have a fulfilling time with their children.
1. Quality time over quantity
We’re all busy, so focus on quality and identify pockets of time to connect with your child. Take five minutes to ask about their day on the ride to school. Have a conversation over dinner – no TV or smartphones allowed.
2. It is okay to play
Let kids be kids and promote activities that encourage their sense of curiosity, enthusiasm and energy.
3. Be a role model
Put down your electronic devices when not needed and show your kids that they can have fun without a screen.
By Dr Janice Wong, Paediatrician at Thomson Paediatric Centre and Nutella Active Family Expert
Dr Janice Wong is a paediatrician from Thomson Paediatric Centre. She is mother of two children, one nine-year-old boy and one six-year-old girl.
Dr Wong is also one of three Nutella Active Family Experts, alongside parenting blogger Mr Kelvin Ang from CheekieMonkies and fitness specialist Ms Kareen Lai from Mums In Sync. The Active Family Experts is part of the Nutella Un-plug to Play campaign, which encourages families to bond without the distraction of electronic gadgets
The Un-Plug to Play campaign culminated in a special afternoon of games and activities for families on 4 July 2015 at United Square Shopping Mall. More than 1,000 children and their parents spent an afternoon having fun together with their phones switched off. Pictures of the event can be found on Nutella’s Facebook page.