We have solutions if you have trouble keeping your young ’uns away from their electronic gadgets.

When Samantha Wong-Lee, 38, realised that her three children, ranging between ages 3 and 7, were hooked on their iPads, she decided to put her family on a digital fast.

“My kids were constantly glued to the games on their devices! It became so bad that they wouldn’t even make eye contact during mealtimes,” she laments. “And when it was time to stop playing, they would start fussing. I could see that they were hooked!” she adds.

The digital world today is your children’s playground. A study by think-tank DQ Institute and the Nanyang Technological University shows that 12-year-olds in Singapore spend almost 46 hours a week — or over six hours daily — glued to a screen. Even 9-year-olds are doing the same — spending over 24 hours a week, or about three hours daily!

“Digital devices cannot replace bonding with parents or learning through play with other children.”

Studies also show that prolonged screen time exposes young children to inappropriate content, affects their sleeping patterns and concentration, causes eye strain and neck pain, and impedes their ability to connect socially with people offline.

Lack of parental supervision is also cited as one of the reasons why children become too attached to their gadgets.

Set limits

For years, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that children under the age of 2 avoid entertainment media, such as TV, and that teens should be exposed to no more than one or two hours per day.

Parents who have children aged between 18 and 24 months should choose high-quality programmes, states Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Dr BL Lim Centre For Psychological Wellness. Limit screen use to one hour per day for children age 2 to 5 years, he adds.

“Parents should co-view digital media with their children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them,” he advises. Just don’t schedule those sessions to coincide with mealtimes!

Make sure you have face-to-face contact

Nothing is more valuable than face-to-face contact. “Digital devices cannot replace bonding with parents or learning through play with other children,” says Dr Lim.

Babies and toddlers, he adds, learn by mimicking their parents. “Face-to-face interaction, like a parent reading to a child, allows the toddler to develop language skills much more effectively than screen time as there are real-world interactions and feedback,” he adds.

Your tot also develops self-confidence and learns social etiquette, as well as picks up facial and non-verbal cues, which are essential for school success later on.

Parent-child interactions not only brings both parties physically and emotionally closer, it enables the parent to listen to what the child has to say and how the child feels about a situation, notes Dr Lim.

Want to minimise your child’s dependence on tech devices? Don’t hide the smartphone or iPad. Or disconnect the Wi-Fi and expect junior to deal with it. The trick is to slowly wean him off technology. Here’s how:

* Explain to junior why it’s important for him to go tech-free for a few days and how the family will work together to find new ways to spend the free time.

* Be consistent and stick to the rules. Parents, too! Do not text or check Facebook. Simply enjoy each other.

6 family-time ideas to try

1. Develop a shared interest
Think of fun ways for the whole family to be physically active together. This may be a sport, like tennis, or going for walks with the kids on their bikes. “There are limitless types of play, arts and crafts, sports or free play,” says Dr Lim. “The most important aspect is to enjoy the parent-child bonding and to encourage their imagination!” he adds.


2. Explore new activities
Build memories by planning weekend movie nights. Or bring the brood outdoors, excursions to theme parks, free concerts in the park, or check out cultural festivals or food fairs. Also let junior get his hands dirty in the garden, so that he can learn about seedlings and how plants grow.

Turn chores into bonding time while teaching kids valuable skills. Let them help with the laundry or get them to lay the table before mealtimes.

3. Read together
Reading to your tot is one of the best parent-child bonding activities. Cultivate a reading habit in your child, says Dr Lim, where both of you can snuggle up together and share the magic of a book.

4. Let kids help with chores
Turn chores into bonding time while teaching kids valuable skills. Let them help with the laundry or get them to lay the table before mealtimes. Or invent a family clean-up game where adults and kids compete to see who can get the most work done the fastest.

5. Cook and bake together
Any kitchen activity will surely brighten up a kid’s day. Let junior help to mix and whisk, then enjoy the final results later.

6. Eat together
Talk about your day at mealtimes. Or play the Yes/No game: Think of a topic and let everyone ask questions, to which you give a “yes” or “no” answer.

How to maximise the time you spend together

* Delegate jobs to others Create more free time by assigning tasks to a babysitter, grandparents or close relatives.

* Rely on technology Manage your busy schedule to enjoy more free time for your family. Programme important dates like parent-teacher conferences, field trips, school holidays and business trips into the calendar on your smartphone. Download an app that will sync the entire family’s calendar across different phones. Says Kavita Raman, 33, mum to Simran, 2, and Sumitra, 7, “Both my husband and I keep our work schedules, kids’ appointments and school-related activities on Google Calendar.” Save time by purchasing groceries at one-stop shopping sites, such as Redmart.com, that deliver the goods to your doorstep.

* Stay organised Do you constantly misplace keys, shoes or wallets? Get organised! Set up a system in which each family member has a basket or cubby hole with their name on it to store such items.

* Create new traditions Don’t wait for school holidays to connect: Head out for Sunday brunch or organise a video game every Friday night.

“We often go to the beach to fly kites every weekend. We always make it a point to honour this set time,” says Michelle Lim, 40, mum to Emma, 4, and Gail, 8. “It’s a joy to see their happy faces when the day comes!” she chuckles.

Photos: iStock

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