Saturday, June 14, 2014

My take on TV/Smartphone/Tablet and children.

There has been a lot of discussions and researches done with regards to the use of the electronic screen for young children.  In the past, parents were only concerned about the television but now, with the prevalence of the smart phones and tablets, our lives have been invaded by electronic screens!

When the elder girl was born, the iPhone was not yet launched to the public and they were not swamped with tablets either.  The iPhone first generation was launched in January 2007.  However, even without the smartphones and tablets, there were televisions during that time and researches that spoke about the ills of watching TV for children age two and below.    

Here are some studies on it if you are interested in reading more about television and the effects it has on children:-

1) Television and Children by University of Michigan  On the webpage, you will also find more resources on the influence of TV on little ones, on their brain development, attitudes, performance in school etc.

2) American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry's point of view.

3) An interview with Dr. Dimitri Christakis of Center for Childhood Health, Behaviour, and Development at the Seattle Children's Research Institute, and professor of Pediatrics at the University of Washington.

Yet, in this day and age, there can be some place for the use of TV/iPad etc. Some things might need visual aid. I used a YouTube video to teach my 8 year old about conception! Obviously I can't show her that!  And we sit to watch videos on how to rainbow loom together.  In general, I do prefer to let them be amused by toys and books rather than the electronic screen as there are too many studies talking about the harms it does to the brains and the children's learning and cognitive skills. That said, I have to be honest to say that when we lived in Paris and I had no external help, I had to turn to the use of the TV to help entertain my daughter when I cooked.  Between the ages of two and three, she was very mobile and therefore, while I cooked, the television was a way to keep her quietly entertained. The hard truth is using toys and games requires more active participation from the caregiver and in some situations, the television is an easy babysitter.  In such cases, I had to turn to educational programmes or children shows for help. Admittedly, it was not the best option but a choice I made.  

However, in Singapore, considering that we have help, I do try to restrict the use of the electronic screen.  My kids, at age 5 and 8, used to get about 1-2hr a week of iPad and possible 2-4 hrs a month of TV up to a year ago. Now, they get about double that time, the elder a bit more than the younger one. The rule of the house is no tv on weekdays. As my 8 year old has homework to be done on the iPad/computer on weekdays, she gets to use it for 30 mins (total) during the week. And of course the other times they get a copious amount of screen time is on flights since it's hard to bring the whole load of toys along on the plane. 

Personally, small amounts of tv/iPad/computer time is acceptable risk for children, especially age 3 and above. This is done with the understanding that children flourish better with one-on-one contact and it is a choice I make to sometimes rely on the electronic screen when I need moments without the children interrupting me, it could either be when I am talking to my adult friends or just need the kids to leave me alone for a bit.  I know for a fact that pretend play helps their imagination, so it is better that they play with their toys and learn through play than learn by being "fed the information" via the electronic screen.  It is the same thing I do with sweets/sugary treats vs healthy snacks.  I sometimes relent and give the kids some of those horrible sweets. 

At the end of the day, these are part of the many choices we make as parents.  We need to understand the risk when we make our decisions.  With my daughter, she watched more TV when she was little as I used that as a form of babysitting as I was a stay-at-home mum with little help.  For the boy, he had very little exposure to TV when he was little because we were in Singapore and had a live-in helper as I was working.  So, with the electronic screens, it's really what we, as parents, are willing to risk and sometimes, the situations we are in.  I'm sure as all loving parents, we seek to do the best for our children.  

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