Screening Screen Time
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Screening Screen Time

As the touchscreen generation dives into the digital world, parents need to lay the groundwork for safe, smart and healthy device use.

Recently, the father of a two-anda-half-year-old recounted with amusement that when he gave his daughter a book, she tried to flip the pages vertically, the way you would when using a tablet computer!

His story illustrates the reality of today’s touchscreen generation, where young children are more at home with smartphones and tablets than books. Not only do parents allow their little ones to use digital devices, many are also giving their children personal smartphones and tablets.

The Straits Times reported last April that a study conducted by think tank DQ Institute and the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) found that more than half of the nine-yearolds here already own a mobile device. The proportion increases to 70% among 12-yearolds. The amount of time children spend on their mobile devices was also tracked: 12-year-olds are glued to a mobile phone or tablet for as much as six-and-a-half hours per day, while nine-year-olds spend three-and-ahalf hours daily.

Children go online to use search engines, listen to music, watch videos and play video games. Also, 55% of nine-year-olds are actively using social media and chat applications even though such platforms require participants to be at least 13 years old.

Using digital media at a young age can be fraught with danger, as it increases the likelihood of exposure to a variety of online risks, such as cybercrime, cyberbullying, and online sexual behaviour. Excessive use of mobile devices is also associated with poor sleep quality, which can affect performance in school. In addition, there is the danger of screen addiction and a reduced ability to interact with people socially.

Limit screen time

Given these negative consequences, parents should educate their children on the safe and responsible use of their devices.

One way to do this is to establish rules for screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers the following guide for the use of digital media for entertainment purposes:

  • For children under 18 months, avoid screen-based media except video chatting with loved ones
  • For children 18–24 months, parents should choose high-quality programming and watch with their children
  • For children two–five years, limit screen time to one hour per day of high-quality programming
  • For children six years and up, establish consistent limits on the time spent using media and the types of media

As extended screen time affects sleep quality, the AAP recommends restricting the use of phones, tablets or computers for at least 30 minutes before bed. It also advises that digital media should never replace sleep, social interaction and physical exercise.

Guidelines for digital media use

While regulating screen time is useful, parents should set a good example on the use of digital media. The AAP recommends they designate “media-free times together, such as dinner and driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as the bedroom”.

They should also have a conversation with their children, especially if they are teens, about the risks of digital media, including “cyberbullying, engaging in sexting and being accessible to online predators”, advises Dr Yolanda Reid Chassiakos, lead author of the Children and Adolescents and Digital Media Technical Report and an assistant professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The American Psychological Association offers the following advice:

Parents should designate media-free times together, such as dinner and driving, as well as mediafree locations at home, such as the bedroom.

Filter contents Set guidelines for your children for the sites and types of content that are offlimits. Get to know the media your child is using; if need be, check his or her browser history to view the sites he or she has visited. Look into software to filter or restrict access to content that is taboo.

Online behaviour A 2014 study by the Internet security firm McAfee reveals that 87% of teens have witnessed cyberbullying. Let your children know they need to be respectful in their digital interactions and to confide in you should they come across cyberbullying or other disturbing information online.

Make it a rule that they should not

  • Download unfamiliar programs
  • Click on suspicious links
  • Share personal information on unknown apps or websites

Also, make it known that they should not respond to messages from strangers, and impress upon them the importance of informing you if they receive them.

Real-life connections Children who spend an inordinate amount of time online tend to substitute real friendships with digital ones. Encourage your child to develop social skills and nurture real-life relationships.

Parental control apps
Here are a few apps to keep an eye on your child’s mobile activity:

DinnerTime This app enables you to monitor your child’s online activities, and lock and unlock his Android device remotely from your own device. Your device can be an Android or an iPhone/iPad/iPod, but his must be an Android.

There are three modes: Dinner Time pauses any activity for up to two hours; Take a Break pauses any activity for up to 24 hours, and Bed Time pauses any activity for any given start and end time.

The free version works on up to two kids’ devices, and can be controlled by up to two parents’ devices. DinnerTime Plus works on up to five kids’ devices, and includes reports on how long your kids have used their devices and which apps they have used the most.

Famigo Sandbox This free app enables you to create a virtual sandbox of childsafe apps and games on your device, and can be used as an optional child-lock. The app automatically sorts existing apps to show only family-friendly and parent-approved ones to your child. It blocks clickable ads, Internet access, calls and texting while your little one is using the device. You can also use it to block inapp purchases, social games and more.

Qustodio This app has a real-time filter that blocks inappropriate content even in private browsing mode. It allows you to keep tabs on your child’s web and search engine use, monitor his or her Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Instagram logins, and set time controls.

Qustodio Premium enables you to track his or her location, block certain games and apps, and monitor calls and text messages. The software is available for Windows PC, Mac, iOS, Android and Kindle devices.