Screen Time and Children

As digital technologies increasingly become tools that we use at work and home, children inevitably seek to emulate this usage. Although technology has educational and other benefits for children, how [...]

As digital technologies increasingly become tools that we use at work and home, children inevitably seek to emulate this usage. Although technology has educational and other benefits for children, how much exposure to technology is considered healthy? SPD@Tampines senior occupational therapist Pow Weiting shares her insights.

Technology and media has been part and parcel of our everyday life and children are often exposed to media devices (eg. televisions, mobile devices) on a daily basis. Apart from its potential in supporting learning, too much screen time has been found to impact the health and development in children in direct and indirect ways. Among young children, screen time and outdoor playtime were found to be associated with sleep duration and pattern. Reducing screen time and increasing outdoor playtime might help in improving children’s sleep (Xu, Wen, Hardy, & Rissel, 2016).

Exposure to food advertising and watching television while eating (which diminishes attention to satiety cues) is one of the associations found between heavy media use and obesity (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2016). Heavy media use was found to have significant negative effects on a child’s behavior. Those highly exposed to simulated violence (which is common in many popular video games) can become immune to violence and in turn become more inclined to act violently themselves and be less likely to behave empathetically (Christakis et al., 2013). Heavy parent use of mobile devices is associated with fewer verbal and non-verbal interactions between parents and children and may result in more parent-child conflict (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2016).

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended that children younger than two years get more hands-on exploration and social interaction with caregivers to develop cognitive, language, motor and social-emotional skills. Higher-order thinking skills that are essential for school success, such as task persistence, impulse control, emotion regulation, and creative, flexible thinking, are best taught through unstructured and social play and through responsive parent–child interactions – not through digital play.

The AAP also recommended that:
– For children 18- to 24-months of age, choose high-quality programme/apps and use them together with children (more information can be found on Common Sense Media, 2016, PBS Kids, 2016). Avoid letting children use media by themselves.
– For children older than 2 years, limit screen time to one hour or less. Consider high-quality programs. Co-view the programme with children to help them make sense of what they are watching and help them to apply concepts learnt into their world.
– Screen time during meals and one hour before bedtime is strongly discouraged. Keep bedrooms, mealtimes and playtimes screen-free. Keep the computer in a common area in the house.
– Avoid fast-paced programmes and apps with distracting content/pop-ups. Any violent content is strongly discouraged.
– Avoid using media as a calming strategy, as children need to learn to manage their own emotions during distress.
– Monitor media/app content and test them before allowing children to use them. Play together.
– Set limits and rules for media use (eg. time limit). Restrict content using parental control settings available.

American Academy of Pediatrics (2016). Media and Young Minds. Council on Communication and Media. Pediatrics, 138(5), 1–6. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-2591

American Academcy of Pediatrics. (2016, October 21). American Academy of Pediatrics Announces New Recommendation for Children’s Media Use. Retrieved December 22, 2016, from The Amercian Academy of Pediatrics

Christakis, D. A., Garrison, M. M., Herrenkohl, T., Haggerty, K., Rivara, F. P., Zhou, C., & Liekweg, K. (2013). Modifying Media Content for Preschool Children: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Pediatrics, 131(3), 431–438. doi:10.1542/peds.2012-1493

Common Sense Media Parent. (2016). Common Sense Media. Retrieved December 22, 2016, from Common Sense Media,

PBSKids. (2016). PBSKids. Retrieved December 22, 2016, from PBSKids

Xu, H., Wen, L. M., Hardy, L. L., & Rissel, C. (2016). Associations of outdoor play and screen time with nocturnal sleep duration and pattern among young children. Acta Paediatrica, 105(3), 297–303. doi:10.1111/apa.13285