• Sun
  • Dec 21, 2014
  • Updated: 6:00pm
NewsHong Kong

Average Hong Kong toddler starts using electronic tablets at just 16 months

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 July, 2014, 4:12am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 July, 2014, 10:57am

Parents are being warned of the health dangers posed to children who spend too much time in front of electronic screens, after a government study found that toddlers began using tablet computers at an average age of 16 months.

The early exposure to such gadgets was worrying, but so was the unhealthy amount of time older children were spending in front of the screens, Dr Thomas Chung Wai-hung, a Department of Health consultant, said.

Well over a third of the primary and secondary school pupils interviewed had given up outdoor activities altogether in favour of staying indoors with their devices, the study found.

Children below two years of age should not be allowed to interact with electronic screens, as they might become addicted easily, Chung and his researchers said. "Parents and their children 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, a community medicine consultant for student health services, said yesterday.

Chung was the department's representative in a government advisory group that ran the survey on more than 4,300 parents, pupils and teachers in January.

One in five pupils spent more than three hours a day in front of electronic screens, the researchers said in their report on the health effects of the use of the internet and electronic-screen products.

Half of them said they had lost sleep from using computers and other related devices, while 45 per cent admitted their academic performance had suffered.

The youngest infant exposed to such screens was only a month old; on average, children started using tablets and personal computers at 16 months and 24 months, respectively.

Exposure to television began at an even younger age, of just eight months.

Dr Ronnie Pao Sze-yuan, of the College of Psychiatrists, said web addiction could interfere with cognitive learning, which would in turn affect the child's social development.

Chung said strong evidence also suggested a link between obesity and spending a lot of time in front of screens.

Problems with vision and musculoskeletal development were also possible, according to an ophthalmologist and an orthopaedist on the research team.



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This article is now closed to comments

There's not a lot of useful depth in this story. What is the physical damage from time spent in front of screens? What is the psychological damage? Does it come from the type of content that children are viewing? There is no explanation of the supposed detrimental 'health effects'. As the father of a 2 year old, I am delighted that she has access to this technology. With supervision, it has helped her to learn language, enhanced her communication skills, recognise colours and numbers, learn songs, and to get a wide perspective of different social and cultural interactions from different types of content. I can't wait until she starts using the technology to learn spelling and drawing, and will encourage her and teach her how to use the various devices to do so. I'm not sure I see anything wrong with using tablets and PCs at 16 months and 24 months. I think the technology is fantastic and I wish it had been around when I was a kid!
Seems to me that adults spend more time all day in front of screens than our children do. I know I do. Perhaps we should sort ourselves out first before we blame technology for problems that really have their roots in poor parenting and basic discipline. It's hard to blame the kids for their addiction when we are such poor role models.
I hope this isn't an attempt by the government to overlook pollution as a factor as why kids stay indoors these days. I don't give my kids tablets and phones to play with but I do minimize their outdoor activities because of the disgusting air.


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