Saturday, July 17, 2021

Keep an eye on that screen time, parents warned as pandemic effects emerge

The overuse of gadgets affects more than children's eyesight, experts say.

Other News

Experts are warning of an increase in cases involving excessive exposure to screens among children and teenagers due to the use of gadgets throughout the many Covid-19 lockdowns enforced by the government since early last year.

Excessive screen exposure varies according to age but is essentially defined as the use of gadgets that goes beyond acceptable limits.

Sherine Selvarajah, a child psychologist at Gleneagles Penang, said more and more parents had been coming for consultation after noticing a change in their children’s behaviour.

“Parents come with the concern that their kids are with their phones all the time,” she told MalaysiaNow.

“They don’t complain that their children are having problems with their eyesight – it’s the change in their behaviour.”

She said the excessive use of gadgets affects children in many areas including their lifestyle, sleeping pattern, eating habits and emotional well-being.

In short, “they are not able to part with their phones”, she said.

“They don’t complain that their children are having problems with their eyesight – it’s the change in their behaviour.”

According to Sherine, where a child is on the spectrum of addiction depends on the symptoms that develop, for example a tendency to self-isolate, always being in a bad mood or, in some cases, becoming more aggressive.

For younger children, she recommends no more than two to three hours of screen time per day, broken up into sessions.

“Six to eight hours a day is considered extremely excessive.”

She gave the example of a case in which a single father had asked for help with his daughter who was supposed to attend online classes during the lockdown periods.

“Instead of learning, she played games the whole day. She didn’t sleep until very late at night and she couldn’t wake up for her classes.”

She said the girl had since undergone behavioural therapy to help her cope with anger issues as well as her eating and sleeping habits.

She also cited another case in which an eight-year-old child had started hacking into his father’s phone and using his Google account and credit cards to level up in his computer games.

“Besides being addicted, he developed other behaviours such as lying and cheating,” she said.

Depending on the severity of their cases, other children are placed in rehabilitation centres. But while many respond well to their treatment, Sherine said, a number of them also relapse due to the pandemic which leaves their parents busy and the children with little else to do.

Aside from behavioural changes, there are also concerns about the damage these children suffer to their eyes.

Dr Tan Jin Poi, an eye surgeon at Pantai Hospital Penang, said they risk developing computer vision syndrome, also known as digital eye-strain, which is caused by extended screen time.

The thinking and emotional development during the first five years could be affected if children spend too much time on their gadgets.

“It is a combination of visual and non-ocular symptoms,” she told MalaysiaNow, citing problems such as fluctuating or double vision, difficulty focusing, and tired, irritated or red eyes.

“Researchers recognise that increased screen time among children is a significant risk factor for the development and progression of short-sightedness or myopia,” she said.

This risk increases among children who spend eight hours daily on their gadgets, she added.

Tan also warned that the thinking and emotional development during the first five years could be affected if children spend too much time on their gadgets. Children also run the risk of becoming overweight.

While it may be hard, Sherine said at the end of the day parents have no choice but to step up and take control of the situation.

“If you tell them to go and do something else, they will ask again what activities they can do. Plan and arrange things together with them.”

This does not mean that any and all use of gadgets must be strictly off limits.

“You can allow them to use gadgets but you need to monitor them,” Sherine said. “Give them a schedule.

“Parents have to be consistent in making sure that kids keep to their schedule.”

And on top of that, they have to keep a sharp eye on themselves, too.

“Parents also need to be good role models,” Sherine said.

Follow us on Telegram for the latest updates: https://t.me/malaysianow

Subscribe to our newsletter

To be updated with all the latest news and analyses.

Related Articles