Daniel Fung

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Screen Time Guidelines for Children – Dr Daniel Fung

Mental health professional Dr Daniel Fung shares the steps parents can adopt to prevent this increasingly common problem in children.

How much is too much?

As a parent, it may be unnerving to see your child being riveted to a screen after a prolonged period of time. So, exactly how long of being stuck to a screen is too long – and too unhealthy?

According to Dr Daniel Fung, who serves as the Chairman of the Medical Board at the Institute of Mental Health, there aren't any local guidelines when it comes to limiting your child's screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics, however, has come up with some guidelines. For very young children below 18 months, screen time should be avoided, except for video chatting with family members. Children 18-24 months of age should be able to access high-quality programming if their parents choose to introduce digital media to them, and their parents should watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing. For children between two to five years of age, screen time should not be more than an hour a day of high-quality programmes. Parents should also co-view media with their children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.

“The basic rule is that too much screen time affects physical and mental health,” said Dr Fung. “And it cannot be compensated even with physical activity.”

“Parents should limit screen time for children under five. Beyond that, increasing screen time use is inevitable, but parent supervision is still important,” he continued.

Excessive screen use and mental development

Excessive screen time means that the child is spending a lot of time in front of the television, computer or mobile phone screen, which affects the child’s physical and emotional well-being. Using television, computer or smartphone screens to babysit children is a very common occurrence today and should be discouraged. Media in the form of apps and games, shows and videos are intentionally created to be engaging, and letting children binge on screens will provoke an addiction that results in the child seeking more and more stimulation. That, naturally, poses a difficulty to stop. There should always be parental or adult supervision when the child has screen time.

Once excessive screen time happens, a few unhealthy things can occur. “Sedentary activities like screen time can affect the child's weight and may cause obesity. The child’s sleep is affected which affects the child’s development. Finally, physical and emotional development can also be affected by excessive screen time,” said Dr Fung.

“If the child prefers screen time to interacting with people, it is not a good sign.”

Precautions parents can take

So what can parents do to prevent their children from being affected from the effects of excessive screen use?

Here's a quick list from Dr Fung on how to nip that potential problem in the bud:

  • Don't introduce screens to young minds too early.
  • Avoid screen time during meals, playtime and bedtime if possible.
  • Vet videos, games or apps for violence and aggression before allowing children to use them.
  • Don't encourage solo activity, but do so in groups as part of family or peer activities.

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