‘Screen out risks to children’

Data suggests lack of physical play and too much TV harms region’s youngsters.

A survey suggests that children in the UAE, Turkey and Saudi Arabia spend too much time hooked up to technology. Vidhyaa for The National
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ABU DHABI // Children in the region spend nearly four and a half hours every day with technology – more than double the time recommended by experts.

Kids Compass, a survey by Turner, a division of Time Warner, showed that on average children spend two hours watching television, 1.2 hours on a tablet or mobile phone and another 1.2 hours playing games online or on a console.

The American Academy of Paediatrics’ recommendation limits access to entertainment media to one or two hours a day.

Dr Haneen Jarrar, child psychologist at Camali Clinic in Dubai, said: “More than four hours of screen time per day is very high for a child. These figures are very alarming. We see a lot of children watching seven hours of TV a day and some of them are as young as two years old.”

She said research had shown that children who watched more than four hours of television a day were “more likely to be overweight and those who see violence on television are more prone to aggression”.

The survey found that six out of 10 mothers believed watching television was beneficial to a child because it allowed them to connect with the outside world.

Dr Jarrar said this was a misconception.

“Watching TV or playing on a tablet is time spent away from play and social interaction and will interfere with development. Children learn from outdoor play,” she said.

“They need play to develop critical areas of their brain responsible for learning emotional intelligence, language and adaptive skills.”

Kids Compas also found that half of mothers surveyed watched television with their children. Dr Jarrar said that mothers should play with their children instead.

“The play a mother does with the child outdoor or indoor is vital for the child’s development. It helps them develop their problem-solving skills, motor skills and language development. We see an increased delay in children who spend lots of hours on TV or iPad,” she said.

Sarah Al Senaani, 33, an Emirati mother, said she kept a close watch on how long her seven-year-old son spends playing on his devices. “I’m at home during holidays and I allow my son to play on the iPad for a maximum of two hours.

“We do a lot of activities and they play with other children. I force them to engage in these activities,” said Ms Al Senaani, the founder of Austoorah Alliance, a support group for depression in Abu Dhabi.

Playing with your child is very important, she said.

“You get an idea of what attracts them and how they think. You go into their world. They have their own playroom so I go there and pretend I’m their age. I play with dolls and sit with them. I play hide and seek with my son or play music and dance together,” she said.

Sally Mohsen Antoun, a 33-year-old Egyptian mother of two, said her four-year-old and five-year-old daughters enjoyed watching videos on their tablets, although she tried to limit their use to 40 minutes a day.

“My kids ask for the iPad all the time,” she said. “If I am at the office and the children are at home they have nothing to do but play on the iPad or watch TV.”

Ms Antoun, who works in sales, makes an effort to do artwork, narrate stories and play games with her daughters.

The survey was conducted with 3,000 mothers and 2,300 children between four and 14, in the UAE, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Shilpy Ashta, a child psychologist at the American Centre for Psychiatry and Neurology, said that watching too much television disturbed sleep. “Late-night screen time makes children sleep late. When they sleep less, they are more prone to mood swings and emotional disturbances,” she said.

Parents need to make sure their children get physical activity and have a technology free day every week. These need to be accompanied by a planned family day.

“Go out and spend quality time, change passwords on the tablet or phone frequently for purpose of monitoring,” the psychologist said. Supporting children to expand their social circle was important, she said.

According to the research firm Childwise, in the UK children between the ages of five and 16 spend an average of three hours online every day.