updated 11 Aug 2014, 10:59
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Fri, Aug 08, 2014
The Straits Times
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Watch how much screen time junior gets
by Joyce Teo

Five-year-old Kristy gets to watch TV for an hour or so during lunchtime and for about two hours during dinner.

"After dinner, her 'reward' is at least 11/2 hours on an Apple iPad before she washes up for bed. Then, we take her through some educational apps or games before she sleeps," said her mother, D. Lee, 39, who holds an office job.

"It is effective as a babysitting tool, as long as we set the rules. We will warn her before we take back the iPad. She knows that if she doesn't cooperate, it will be confiscated for a couple of days."

Mrs Lee said she first allowed Kristy to play with the tablet when she was around two, but the time spent on it was a lot shorter then.

"It's really a case of bo pian (Hokkien for no choice) now, as I have a three-month-old baby. Otherwise, I will go mad. She'll keep bugging me and I have to express milk most of the time."

Mrs Lee is aware of the possible ill effects of her daughter getting too much "screen time", but she is not overly worried.

Screen time is the time spent on any media device with a screen, such as TV sets, computers, video game consoles and handheld screen devices, like mobile phones and tablets.

She is among the many parents today who whip out their smart devices to entertain their children.

Indeed, a recent study at the National University of Singapore (NUS) by students from the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, called Project iBaby, found that nine out of 10 children in the 18 to 24 months age group are exposed to screen devices.

As part of a community health project, the fourth-year students interviewed the parents of 800 children in February to find out how often young children use screen devices and the attitudes, practices and beliefs of their caregivers towards such use.

What is of concern is the amount of screen exposure young children are experiencing. The Project iBaby study discovered that almost half of these children under the age of two spend an hour or more on screen devices a day."This is the first time in Singapore that screen viewing behaviour of very young children has been investigated comprehensively," said Falk Mueller-Riemenschneider from the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, who is the supervisor of Project iBaby.

"Our findings highlight that exposure to screen devices is highly prevalent and that awareness about the detrimental health effects is limited."

The excessive use of screen devices can be harmful.

It can cause speech delays and behavioural issues in young children, and attention problems in school-going children, apart from the possible weight gain that can accompany sedentary behaviour.

Readon Teh, 23, the student in charge of Project iBaby's results, said: "We also found out that kids below the age of two, who are exposed to screen time, are more likely to have less than the recommended 13 hours of sleep a day."

Early and heavy screen-time exposure can result in a higher rate of attention deficit when a child is of school-going age and result in language delays if parent-child interactions are compromised as a result of screen time, said consultant Jennifer Kiing, division of neurodevelopmental and behavioural paediatrics at the department of paediatrics, National University Hospital.

Experts say children under the age of two learn best through real-life interactions and not through videos.

In general, children under the age of two are more likely to have speech delays and behavioural issues if they are exposed to excessive media screen exposure before they turn two, said Tan Kuanyang from Thomson Paediatric Centre.

That is why the general stand of paediatricians is to discourage the use of media devices for those below the age of two, he said. The recommendation also applies to educational apps.

"An app speaks to you and does not require you to interact, resulting in speech and behavioural issues," said Dr Tan.

Mrs Lee said she will monitor Kristy's behaviour. If there are any issues, she will "moderate Kristy's time with the iPad".

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