Survey reveals extent of toddlers' early exposure to computer screens

Study finds infants interact with electronic devices from as young as 16 months old, while one in three school students has given up on outdoor activities

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 July, 2014, 6:13pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 July, 2014, 6:18pm

A public health expert has voiced concerns about young children’s early exposure to devices with electronic screens, as a government study revealed toddlers in Hong Kong begin using tablet computers from as young as 16 months old.

The survey, carried out by an advisory group commissioned by the health bureau, also found that some young children were being exposed to television at the age of just eight months, while well over a third of primary and secondary school students say they had given up outdoor activities altogether in favour of spending time indoors with their devices.

The bureau interviewed over 4,300 parents, students and teachers in January, and found that less than 15 per cent of parents always accompany their kids while they are interacting with electronic screens.

The survey also revealed that one in five school students spend more than 3 hours a day in front of electronic screens.

Dr Thomas Chung Wai-hung, a consultant to the bureau on public health, warned that parents and their children might be unaware of the dangers of prolonged exposure to such screens.

“They may not be aware that using the internet and electronic-screen products for long hours can affect the physical and psychological health of the user,” Chung said at the release of a report on the study on Tuesday.

“Kids are exposed to electronic devices at such a young age because it is getting easier for parents and children to use these technologies,” he added.

A majority of the parents interviewed said they always or occasionally quarrel with their kids over their use of electronic devices and the internet.

Half of the students said they had lost sleep from using computers and other related devices, while 45 per cent said their academic performance had been affected by their screen habits.

Well over a third said they had given up outdoor activities altogether in favour of their devices.

Chung said internet addiction can cause problems with cognitive development and learning, which would in turn affect the social development of children.

There is strong evidence to suggest a link between spending a lot of time in front of screens and obesity, said Chung, as it is commonly accompanied by a reduction in time spent exercising, an increase in snacking and decreased sleep time.

It is also linked to other vision and musculoskeletal problems, according to Chung.

The advisory group advised parents not to allow toddlers below two years of age to interact with any electronic screens.

Children aged between two and six should always be accompanied by adults when using the internet and should be limited to two hours a day, the group said.

And primary school students should not be allowed to use computers for entertainment purpose for more than two hours per day, the group suggested.