The popularity of the Pokemon Go game prompts us to share worrying data on the use of electronic screens by children in Malaysia. The concerns expressed in the media about the game’s effect on children are the tip of the iceberg.
The Perak Clinical Research Centre last year asked 340 parents how much time their two-year-olds had spent looking at screens in the previous 24 hours. The average was six hours per day. This is extremely worrying. Seventy-three per cent of the children used mobile phones or tablets and 95 per cent had the TV on at the same time. Forty-nine per cent were using the gadgets unaccompanied.
Many parents and other child minders use electronic gadgets as convenient babysitters, but there is an increasing amount of data indicating adverse effects on children. Kids who look at screens for more than two hours per day are six times more likely to develop speech and language delay, according to the American Association of Paediatrics.
Other studies have found that excessive screen time impairs child-parent interaction, is linked to obesity due to a sedentary lifestyle, predisposes children to screen addiction and affects sleep, emotional well-being and learning.
The content children see on the screens is also very important. They might inadvertently be exposed to inappropriate content and other online risks.
We strongly urge parents and child minders to avoid making electronic gadgets available to young children. Our recommendations, in line with international guidelines, are that children under the age of two should not be exposed to any screens, including television.
Children ages two to five years should have a maximum of two hours a day with screens, always supervised and preferably in an interactive way with parents and child minders.
In addition, we recognise that many adults and families need breaks from their gadgets. We strongly recommend one to two screen-free days for the family weekly. During this time the family should avoid TV, tablets, smartphones, computers, electronic games, music, etc. e outdoors, preferably with nature (not just with food).
As a society, we need to find balance in the use of electronic devices, especially mobile phones and tablets. Parents and child minders must use electronic screens wisely in the lives of children. Excessive use can impair their development and irreparably affect their future.
Suria Junus, Dr Amar Singh
The Star (Malaysia, ANN