Find right balance in use of smartphones

  • A limit should be set on the amount of screen use, but just what that is can only be determined by individual and family needs
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 January, 2019, 9:39pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 January, 2019, 11:10pm

Smartphones are blamed by parents for all manner of perceived problems with their children, from affecting eyesight to destroying attention spans and causing sleeplessness. Research is not conclusive, though, and there is little evidence that screen use harms health. Moderation and balance are nonetheless important and such studies should focus on populations in general, not just a particular sector. We all need to ensure that use is not so excessive that we fail to get enough sleep, exercise and time with family and friends.

Children spend 8 hours on screens, with 1 in 5 parents setting no limits: poll

There are any number of studies, scientific and otherwise, targeting smartphones, computers and televisions, to try to explain particular societal problems. The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, the city’s largest political party, surveyed 1,027 parents with children aged between 3 and 12, and concluded that too much time looking at screens was related to eye conditions such as myopia. While findings that 20 per cent of parents did not regulate their children’s screen use and 8.1 per cent were looking at devices for six or more hours a day are worrying, short-sightedness cannot be wholly blamed on smartphones. They may contribute, but being indoors too much with after-school lessons and not getting enough ultraviolet light exposure by spending time in playgrounds or looking into infinity are also thought to be factors.

Parents complaining about their children’s excessive smartphone use should first consider their own habits – they are the ones setting an example. But with smartphones being increasingly important to providing everyday information, news, social connections and entertainment, balances in their use have to be found. Limits should be set, but that can only be determined by individual and family needs. Britain’s Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health seems to have the right idea. While its guidelines on screen use do not set time limits, it recommends not using them an hour before bedtime as they stimulate the brain. Determining how much use is too much can be answered by questioning whether family screen use is under control, whether it intrudes on what the family wants to do, and whether it interferes with sleep.