Is Your Child Getting Too Much Screen Time?

The latest guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO) have stirred up some discussion about the time that children spend on screens like phones and tablets. 

Although these guidelines focus on the importance of enough physical activity and sleep for children below five years old, they raise important questions for parents and caregivers: 

The new recommendation is that children under the age of 2 should not have sedentary screen time, but instead should be engaged in physical activity of any level of intensity, or encouraged to do storytelling or reading, where interaction with caregiver is involved. For children ages 2-5, screen time is recommended to not exceed 1 hour per day, and children should not be restrained in prams or sitting for longer than 1 hour at a time. 

Why too much screen time is bad for children

Lack of physical activity

A four-year study carried out by the University of Hong Kong found that children who use more than 2 hours of screen time a day were more likely to be overweight and at higher risk of behavioral issues. Spending too much time looking at screens takes out time that could be spent being engaged in physical activities. Physical activity is not only good for our bodies, but also beneficial to our mental health. It typically gives our minds a break, and when we exercise, our bodies produce endorphins – mood hormones that help us better manage everyday’s stress. It is important for children in earlier stages of development to have regular physical activity, so they can grow healthier and happier.

Affects Eyesight

Too much screen time is closely linked to issues with our optical health. Hong Kong is known for having a myopia epidemic amongst children, with over 80% of young adults and over 60% of 12-year olds being myopic (versus only 30% in Britain). Essentially, it’s not the screens or monitors that are harmful to the eyes, although there are issues of prolonged exposure to blue light from monitors creating myopia stimulus, but the fact that using them is with too close proximity (20 cm) than the normal distance of 45 to 50 cm. It creates greater strain on the retina and overtime, can rapidly increase the risk of worsening myopia, which in turn can hinder a child’s social and academic capabilities.

Learn about eye tests for kids: https://www.healthymatters.com.hk/eye-tests-for-children-when-and-where-to-go-in-hong-kong/

Over-exposure of social media

When children spend unmonitored time on devices and browse the internet by themselves, it can be difficult to keep up with the information they are being exposed to, and how much outside influence is being allowed to affect them. For sure the internet can be very informative, but information can sometimes be too informative, that’s two sides of the same coin. As parent and caregiver, it is our responsibility to guide children on how to use these tools in ways that are beneficial to their wellbeing. On social media platforms like YouTube, Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram, individuals need to be at least 13 to register an account however, as they are so common in our daily lives that we ought to pay extra attention if children are occasionally using our devices. Children can suffer from many underlying issues with today’s social media culture: cyberbullying, controversial media coverage, uncensored content, obsessing over idealised images or number of likes and followers, replacing physical social interaction etc. Although it is possible to set privacy settings and tweak the contents being shown on our feeds, it is best to simply limit children’s device uses to simply educational or just to message friends and relatives.

Lack of social interaction

Simply said, spending too much time on devices reduces children’s social abilities. Despite the advancement of technology allowing for widespread communities and friendships to develop, the reality is that people are lonelier than ever; in Hong Kong, studies have found that over 50% of young people report to struggle with depressive symptoms. Although there are so many platforms available, what children really need are physical forms of social interaction that helps them build emotional stability as well as their identity, as they grow to become young adults. 

Read our expert guide to depression: https://www.healthymatters.com.hk/complete-guide-depression-in-hong-kong/

Screen time for learning

It is true that in the age of technology, there are now many more learning opportunities that come from using digital devices. From learning a new language or picking up a minute skill, to developing skills in programming and coding, the opportunities are endless. However, there should still be a certain boundary with regards to how much time is spent on developing these skills: just as adults need vacation time and rest time from being in work environments, children also need breaks that don’t involve other devices. According to the WHO guidelines, children under 5 should be getting no less than 10 hours of good quality sleep per night. Screen time not only further stimulates our eyes, keeping us awake for longer when we use devices close to bedtime, but research has also found that cognitive skills are better in children who spend less than 2 hours a day on devices compared to those who spend more time on devices. This means that with reduced device usage, children are more likely to have better memory and skills in knowledge acquisition.

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How to manage screen time?

Here is a list of tips you could try to better manage your child’s screen time:

  • Develop screen time rules
    Set clear time limits and areas in which screen times are allowed. There are various apps or timers to help you.
  • Discourage use of media during other activities like homework or dinner
    This is not multitasking; children should be encouraged to focus on one thing at a time. Furthermore, dinner time is a crucial time for social interaction between family members.
  • Not presenting screen time as a reward
    When negotiating screen times and device usage, try not to present ‘no screen time’ as punishment and ‘yes screen time’ as reward. Placing a neutral impression on devices encourages children to seek out other activities as equal options, and motivates them to have a more appreciative attitude towards activities they are involved in outside of ‘yes screen time’.
  • Involvement of ulterior activities, e.g. reading, board games, outdoor activities
    There are endless options to choose from. Participating in activities that involve live performance or physical engagement is better for children when it comes to learning by observation.
  • Promoting critical consideration of the media they interact with online
    With social media now being such a big part of adolescent life, as long as appropriate behaviours are taught – to help children recognise what is OK and what isn’t – they can learn better internet literacy to protect themselves when they use social media.

As parents or caregivers, it’s not always easy to manage screen time for our child, and we often struggle to strike a balance for ourselves. We hope you found this article helpful. Subscribe to our newsletter to stay tuned, and follow us! 

This article was independently written by Healthy Matters and is not sponsored. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.