Does your 0 to 5-year-old child need electronic screen products?

Electronic screen products become common in our daily life. These include televisions, DVDs, electronic games, computers, smartphones and tablet computers, etc. The Department of Health of Hong Kong conducted a survey in 2014 showed that parents had already started to allow their babies, as young as one month old, to be in contact with these products. Whether they are used for entertainment or learning, parents might think that the earlier their children use the electronic screen products, the better prepared they would be for future learning.

Influence of electronic screen products

Despite young children can learn as quickly as a sponge taking in water, there is still no studies to show sustainable effects in learning for babies and preschoolers using screen products. International researches have confirmed that these so-called ‘screen time’ activities are mostly sedentary and excessive screen time activities will have negative impacts on children. These include:

  • Taking over the time for physical activities, causing overweight
  • Affecting development of bone and vision
  • Affecting motor skills development and language development
  • Developing unhealthy eating habit
  • Imitating inappropriate behaviour including violent behaviour
  • Influencing sleep, concentration, social and communication skills

Prime time in development

The prime time in development for young children is before six years of age, in particular, birth to two. They have 40 to 60 % of their day spent in sleep. They surely need to use the rest of the day in quality time with their parents and in various activities to enhance healthy and all-round development.

Tips

  • Your child needs a large amount of parent-child interaction before two years old. Avoid him to be in contact with any electronic screen products
  • For your two to six years old, the daily accumulated time for him to watch TV or use computer, tablet computer or smartphone should be restricted to within two hours
  • Be a role model for your child and cut down screen time
  • Adults should keep the electronic screen products and monitor their use. Do not often leave them on to decrease the chance of your child viewing them
  • Do not place any electronic screen products in the bedroom as they will affect sleep
  • Turn off any electronic screen during mealtime to facilitate communication among family members
  • Set up rules and consequences in regulating your child’s screen time. Be consistent in carrying out
  • Avoid rewarding your child with extra screen time or punishing him with cutting it down
  • Choose suitable content of the screen activities carefully according to the child’s age
  • When your child is engaging in electronic screen activities:
    • Accompany him to talk about the content and give guidance to bring out the educational function of the product
    • Ensure proper posture and keep proper distance (See photos below)
    • Have a 20- to 30-second break after every 20 to 30 minutes in use

You may engage your child in other activities if he asks for screen activities. Try to use quality time with your child to replace screen time. Talking, reading, playing and doing physical activities with him can better facilitate his intellectual, language, motor and emotional development. If you want to obtain more information about parenting, please browse the following website: http://s.fhs.gov.hk/da3ph

Weaning off the ‘electronic pacifier’

If your child has already got into the habit of viewing smartphone or tablet computer, he might whine and cry when you refuse his want for the screen activities. Such situations can occur at the dining table or when going out. You might worry about him not eating or making a scene in the public and continue to give him the smartphone or tablet computer, in the hope that they could soothe him as what a pacifier did when he was a baby.

In fact, watching or playing with any electronic screen products will distract children from enjoying the food, defeating their motivation in learning to feed themselves, making them dependent on being fed as well as causing them to eat too much or too little. Moreover, using these products to soothe children may reward and sustain their inappropriate behaviours like whining or food refusal. There are effective management strategies for the problem behaviours. These include planned ignoring your child until he stops the problem behaviour, or letting him calm down for a short duration of time. You may refer to the leaflets ‘Discipline Your Toddler in a Positive Way’ and ‘Managing the Behaviour of Your Preschooler’.

For establishing a healthy eating habit, details are found in our pamphlets ‘Healthy Eating for 6-24 Months Old Children (2) & (3)’.

If you still have problems in dealing with your child’s behaviour, you may contact health care professionals in MCHCs. We will provide guidance and arrange parenting workshop or the Positive Parenting Programme accordingly.

More detailed discussion and recommendations on the issue can be found in the Report of 'Advisory Group on Health Effects of Use of Internet and Electronic Screen Products' published by Department of Health in July, 2014. You may download the information from the Student Health Service, Department of Health website:

http://www.studenthealth.gov.hk/english/internet/health_effects.html

(Published 03/2016)