by Carla Mia Carandang, M.D, DPPS
Smart phones, Smart TVs, and tablets are now part of the Filipino household. In this modern day and age, fun and socialization for the younger population are mostly dependent on gadgets. This is especially true during this time of the pandemic where children spend most of their time in online classes. Afterwards, they play games on their phones and binge-watch K-Dramas, animé or whatever shows are currently popular. Unfortunately, this situation overexposes our children to digital screens at a young age, which may affect their health and well-being.
A recent study showed that the average Filipino child spends about 34 hours per week in front of digital screens for entertainment alone which is two hours higher than the global average. About 53 percent of the students access the internet through their own personal mobile phones, while 41 percent access the internet through their family computers. Among the top activities cited are watching videos, using a search engine, playing games, listening to music, and creating social media profiles.
The Pitfalls of Excessive Screen Time
Prolonged screen time has direct and indirect effects on a child’s health. Recreational screen time increases with age and displaces more beneficial forms of sedentary behaviors (i.e. reading). Screen time also takes over physical activity, play, and sleep.
Too much screen time may lead to:
• Sleep problems
• Lower grades in school
• Reading fewer books
• Less time with family and friends
• Not enough outdoor or physical activity
• Weight problems
• Mood problems
• Poor self-image and body image issues
• Fear of missing out
• Fear of missing out
• Less time to develop new skills and hobbies
Since children who have their personal gadgets have more freedom in accessing various contents, the parents may not always know what they are viewing, or how much time they are spending with their screens. Because of this, their children may be exposed to:
• Violence and risk-taking behaviors
• Videos of stunts or challenges that may inspire unsafe behavior
• Sexual content
• Negative stereotypes
• Substance use
• Cyberbullies and predators
• Advertising aimed at your child
• Misleading or inaccurate information
Screen Time Guidelines for Children
Parents are encouraged to help their children develop healthy media use habits at an early age. Managing your child’s screen time can be daunting at first but communicating and establishing boundaries with your child is beneficial. The Philippine Pediatric Society, Inc. (based on the guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics) follows these important measures on pediatric screen time:
• <18 months of age – screen time for video chatting only (for example, with a parent who is out of town).
• 18 and 24 months – screen time should be limited to watching educational programming with a caregiver, <1 hour per day.
• For children 2-5 years old- limit non-educational screen time to about 1 hour per weekday and 3 hours during weekends.
• For ages 6 and older – screen time <2 hours per day; encourage physical activities and limit activities that include screens
• Turn off all screens during family meals and outings.
• Learn about and use parental controls.
• Avoid using screens as pacifiers, babysitters, or a way to stop tantrums.
• Turn off screens and remove them from bedrooms 30-60 minutes before bedtime.Screen time is not all bad and can also offer many benefits. It’s never too early to develop a screen-time plan with your family. Let your children share their ideas and concerns. Here are some additional tips:
• Familiarize yourself with the shows that your child is watching to make sure they are age appropriate.
• For the young ones, talk to them about what they are seeing. Point out good behavior, such as cooperation, friendship, and concern for others. Make connections to meaningful events or places of interest.
• Be aware of advertising and how it influences choices.
• Encourage your child to learn other activities such as sports, music, art, and hobbies that do not involve screens.• Set a good example with your own safe and healthy screen habits.
• Teach children about online privacy and safety.
• Actively decide on when to give your child the privilege of a personal device.
• Encourage using screens in ways that build creativity and connection with family and friends.
• Consider your child or teen’s maturity and habits. The right plan for one family may not be a good fit for another.
Healthy and beneficial screen use is possible with proper guidance and consistency. If you are concerned about your child’s screen time or if you need more help and advice, talk to your pediatrician or family physician. If your child’s problems persist, ask for a referral to a qualified mental health professional.