Limit gadgets for kids

Many parents already know, at least vaguely, that too much screen time is bad for young children’s development.

What they may not realise is just how bad it is for little ones to be glued to the screens of TVs, smartphones or computers.

The authoritative American Academy of Pediatrics last month slashed its maximum recommended screen time for children aged two to five. The maximum recommended screen time went from two hours daily to one hour a day.

It also recommended that parents watch “high quality programming” with their children during this hour and that children younger than 18 months get zero screen time (the previous recommendation was that children below two years old should not get any screen time at all).

This new development should spur parents to take action, if they have not already done so.

Mrs Mandy Loh certainly has.

Her smartphone and laptop are password-protected so her two children cannot access the devices on their own.

The stay-at-home mum, 37, also limits screen time for Cristan, five, and Caris, two.

They get to watch about 1½ hours of TV a day after dinner while she does the dishes and other household chores.

Mrs Loh and her engineer husband, Mr Tim Loh, 37, are aware of the dangers of excessive screen time for young children, which include the risk of irregular sleep schedules and behavioural problems.

However, Mrs Loh, who blogs about parenting matters for the voluntary organisation I Love Children, says it would be challenging to adhere to these new guidelines when it comes to screen time.

“The children sometimes make a fuss when we switch off the TV and they’re used to their evening routine,” she says.

She is not alone. A local study published in 2013 suggests that many other parents in Singapore struggle with limiting screen time for their young children.

It found that 66 per cent of children aged two and younger were well-acquainted with gadgets such as smartphones and touchscreen tablets.

The data was collected by researchers including those from the Centre of Research and Best Practices at Singapore’s Seed Institute, a pioneer in early childhood education training. The study indicated that excessive use of such devices can hamper a child’s development and lead to poor eyesight, among other problems.

For Mrs Noeline Wong, 34, a part- time primary school teacher, organising activities such as playdates and enrolling her children in enrichment classes, such as art, swimming and tennis, has the added benefit of ensuring her four children’s screen time is limited.

She and her husband Nicholas Wong, 35, who works in sales in the private banking industry, try to ensure that their children, aged one to eight, keep to about an hour of screen time a day.

They also try as far as possible to ensure the children view educational programmes and apps, such as watching Mandarin DVDs. She prefers them to draw, read or attempt puzzles to occupy themselves.

But the children sometimes manage to sneak a peek at the iPad Mrs Wong tries to keep hidden and she gets angry when they watch programmes she does not think are appropriate.

“I tell them to Google information and we watch movies like Zootopia together as a family,”she says.