Part I of this topic gave parents information about the effects of technology on children’s development and their well-being.
Part II provides guidelines and some strategies for parents to make screen time safe and healthy. Tips on how to use technology to enhance children’s learning and development will also be discussed.
Technology has become the part of everyday life in Singapore and it is unrealistic to expect children to stay away from it.
- Parent participation – If parents are there with the child to guide them, then these devices can be learning tools and screen time can be turned into quality bonding time. Turn screen time into an interactive session by talking about what you are viewing, asking questions and discussing the content. Active participation of parents will help develop language skills.
- Extending learning – Parents should help children make connections with what they see on the screen with what they observe in the real world. For example, pointing out objects that they have seen on TV, retelling a story that they watched and playing games.
- Switch off all media during meal times. Having meals together as a family without any devices at the table encourages healthy conversation. Discourage children from having snack or meal times in front of the TV to reduce unhealthy eating habits.
- Limiting screen time – It is important for young children to spend as much time possible with the people and things in the real world. Please check Part I of this topic for the screen time recommended by the American Association of Pediatrics for different age groups.
- Encourage play time inside and outside by taking children for walks, play in a children’s park or the beach. Create opportunities for children to play together with friends. They need opportunities to socialise on their own terms. For suggestions on outdoor play and play areas in Singapore, please check out our parent portal post, Outdoor Play and Children’s Well-being (Part II).
- Remove all electronic devices from children’s bedroom. Children, who are allowed to have gadgets in their bedrooms, tend to use them more and past their bedtime, which will cause sleep disturbances. As noted in the Part I of this topic, children should not use electronic devices at least 2 hours before their bedtime.
- Video chats are a great way to keep in touch with family members who are away. It is important to note that children should be supervised by an adult who is participating in the video chat. Discontinue the chat if the child feels upset on seeing the person on the screen.
- Media playing in the background – Due to reasons mentioned in Part I of this topic, as much as possible, restrict the use of media when children are engaged in active play. Wait until the children have gone to bed to watch programmes that are not appropriate for your children. Switch off all electronic devices, including TV, when they are not in use.
- Travel time – Having devices to engage children during travel time can be a big relief for parents. However, avoid using gadgets all the time. Having a conversation, playing games such as ‘I spy’, singing songs together or telling stories are great ways to keep children engaged.
- Boredom – Avoid distracting your child with a screen every time they look bored. Let them learn to come up with their own play ideas to cope with boredom without relying on technology.
- If your child is already dependent on the media, a firm, consistent approach will help to reduce the reliance. Setting clear limits, providing alternatives and following them through consistently will eventually develop healthy screen habits. During the recovery process, the child may tend to be unhappy, disappointed and frustrated. Parents should be sensitive to the child’s needs and remember to take a positive guidance approach.
Quality of the media
Good quality media will help with children’s learning. Choose something that is of interest to your child. For example, if your child is interested in animals, watching an informative programme on animals is much better than mindlessly watching an animated series. Here are a few tips to consider when choosing a programme for your child.
- Content should always show positive interaction between people and environment. Exposure to screen violence may develop aggressive behaviour in children.
- Interactive programmes which require children to participate and those that require more than one person participating would be ideal. Moreover, the interaction is better if it is with a real person rather than the various functions of the programme. For example, asking questions, responding and discussing rather than just pressing buttons or tabs.
- Games or apps that encourage creativity or problem solving such as drawing, making up stories, fixing a puzzle etc.
- Fast-paced programmes that are not age-appropriate make comprehension difficult for children.
- Commonsensemedia.org is a website that helps parents to identify programmes, apps, books and TV shows that are appropriate for different ages.
Always remember to balance hands-on play, friends, books, nature and sports with the electronic devices and gadgets. Developmental psychologists believe that interaction with people and environment and creative imaginative play is essential for children’s well-being. Children who grow up in a healthy family environment with loving relationships are less likely to get addicted to electronic devices. Setting limits very early and choosing good quality media will help develop healthy screen habits that will stay with them for life.
Copyright © Marjory Ebbeck and Sheela Warrier 2017
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