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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 February 2019

UAE parents and psychologists sceptical on new child screen time guidelines

The American Academy of Paediatrics recently announced that children from age 2 to five can have an hour a day of screen time on gadgets under the supervision of parents.
Khawla Saleh, a mother of two boys, aged two and six, is worried that the new guidelines will be misunderstood. Delores Johnson / The National
Khawla Saleh, a mother of two boys, aged two and six, is worried that the new guidelines will be misunderstood. Delores Johnson / The National

ABU DHABI // Changes to guidelines on screen time for toddlers have met with scepticism from mental health experts and parents.

The American Academy of Paediatrics, whose recommendations are widely followed by psychologists and paediatricians in the UAE, recently announced that children from age 2 to 5 can have an hour a day of screen time on gadgets under the supervision of parents.

Before, it said that children over 2 should spend no more than two hours in front of the TV. Now, the AAP incorporates the internet and tablets in its thinking and said that its limits apply to time spent on entertainment and not on education.

The AAP, quoting studies, said that “emerging evidence shows that at 24 months of age, children can learn words from live video-chatting with a responsive adult or from an interactive touch-screen interface that scaffolds the child to choose the relevant answers”.

Dr Jenny Radesky, lead author of AAP’s policy statement, Media and Young Minds, said: “What’s most important is that parents be their child’s ‘media mentor’. That means teaching them how to use it as a tool to create, connect and learn.”

With these new recommendations, AAP has recognised the challenge that media and screen time pose in the digital age.

Dr Nida Hussain, a clinical psychologist at Lighthouse Arabia in Dubai, said that the new recommendation from AAP stemmed from “a lot of media interaction happening now and pressure that everyone should be on it”.

“They don’t look at it from a neurological standpoint. If you think about it from a neuro-psychologist’s position you see that from birth to three years you brain is developing the quickest,” she said.

“If they watch something where a lot is happening, the child gets overstimulated. This can cause the child distress and trouble sleeping.”

If gadgets are to be used, Dr Hussain prefers one-to-one interactions, like when a person in a video is talking to the child.

“Just because they [AAP] have come out with this rule doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Children learn from their environment and from one-to-one interactions,” she said.

Khawla Saleh, a mother of two boys aged two and six, works in child safety in Abu Dhabi.

“I am concerned parents will misunderstand this and think it means it’s OK to let the kids watch or play on these media outlets when, in reality, that’s not what they’re saying. Parents need to understand there is more harm than good from these and the good can only happen with their supervision and selection,” said the Emirati.

“The policy mentions an hour but doesn’t specify how that hour should be spent. I would guess it has to be divided into half an hour or 15-minute sessions during the day.

“I know that as a mother of a two-year-old the one hour he spends on TV is not good. He is not social after that.”

However, Dr David Lee, lead consultant clinical psychologist at Camali Clinic in Dubai, supported the recommendation when he said: “There is a need for parents to sit down with younger children and make it an educational activity. We recommend these methods because when screen time is used effectively for learning, it can be helpful.”

The idea is not to leave a child by themselves watching videos. Parents are encouraged to be involved and repeat and teach the child.

“It’s about reframing the purpose of this technology,” said Dr Lee.

“Screen time has to be monitored and it should support their cognitive development. TV shows or online games that children can engage with can help in language development.”

Dr Lee said the recommendations originated from “a need to recognise that we now live in a digital world”.

Emirati mother Sarah Salem said: “I don’t agree with the study. I believe physical activities are much more important for children than electronics.”

Ms Salem monitors her eight-year-old son and six-year-old daughter’s use of technology. “They use Majid app or video games that match their age,” she said.

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Sreen time recommendations from the American Academy of Paediatrics:

The latest recommendations from American Academy of Paediatrics focus on the fact that children nowadays are growing up in a media-saturated environment.

AAP has suggestions for each age group, as well as parents. The youngest age group – children under 18 months – are asked to avoid use of screen media other than video chat.

Children between the ages of 18 to 24 months should be introduced to digital media through high-quality programming. Parents are asked to watch the show or play the game with their children to help them understand what is happening.

For children aged 2 to 5 years, screen use should be limited to an hour per day.

From 6 onwards, children need consistent limits on the time spent using media. Parents are warned to ensure that media does not take the place of adequate sleep or physical activity.

School age children and adolescents are advised to balance media use with other healthy behaviour.

Parents are also advised to spend media-free time together and have media-free locations at home. A family media use plan tool has also been launched by AAP in an effort to assist families in developing healthy media habits.

It can be found at healthychildren.org/mediauseplan.

newsdesk@thenational.ae

Updated: October 27, 2016 04:00 AM

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