Children are becoming tech-savvy at an increasingly early age. While the benefits of technology cannot be denied, parents and caregivers need to understand how excessive exposure can impact the development and health of their young children.

Read on for practical advice offered by Dr Soong Chi Mei, Principal Psychologist at the Department of Child Development, with Dr Arjandas Mahadev, Head and Senior Consultant from the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, both from KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), a member of the SingHealth group.

The dangers of excessive usage of mobile devices

Children who overuse mobile devices are at risk of developing:

  • Signs of inattention, impulsivity and poor short-term memory, leading to behavioural and learning difficulties
  • Obesity (on the rise in young children) due to a lack of physical exercise
  • Issues with fine motor skills, and in turn handwriting skills, as a result of less exposure to traditional play activities such as blocks, play dough, arts and crafts, and dressing dolls
  • A hunched back, a condition called “postural kyphosis”.

Whilst children may adopt a hunched position to be “comfortable”, it ironically places tremendous strains on the neck and upper back muscles, and pain may soon set in, says Dr Arjandas. “Besides symptomatic treatment, physiotherapy may be required in the form of education on good posture habits.”

Should children be prohibited from using smartphones/tablets?

Not necessarily, according to Dr Soong. “We need to accept the reality that mobile devices are here to stay and have become part of our lives. Moderate use of these devices, balanced with other social and active activities is key,” she says.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (2013) and the Canadian Paediatric Society (2010) have published the following screen time guidelines:

  • Children under the age of 2: Should not be exposed to any screen time including TV, smartphones and tablets
  • Children aged 2 to 4 years old: Screen time limited to less than one hour a day
  • Aged 5 and above: No more than two hours daily of recreational screen time

Parents are also advised to break up the time their child spends in front of the TV or using handheld tech devices to intervals of 20 to 30 minutes per session.

In addition, it’s vital that young children continue to be active and participate in interactive play to support their gross and fine motor, cognitive, social and communication development.

As your child grows older...

“Your child is likely to become increasingly engaged in social media. Then it’s time to watch out for cyberbullying and to teach your child to communicate respectfully and positively,” says Dr Soong.

The best way to do so is to ask your child how it would feel to be on the receiving end of nasty comments. Then, relate this back to your child and explain how easy it is for words to affect another person’s feelings. The key is to help guide your child to gracefully solve social difficulties that may occur when communicating online.

“Success in reaching out to your child will definitely help strengthen a positive parent-child relationship,” she concludes.

Read on for tips to prevent tech addition in children.

Ref: R14