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Editorial

Turn off that screen

/ 09:08 AM May 05, 2019

Can using gadgets all the time really be bad for children?

Yes, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Last week, the WHO released suggested guidelines on how much “screen time” children should be allowed, stating that kids under the age of 5 should not be allowed more than one hour a day, less if possible, of screen time.

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When it comes to children less than a year old, the WHO is even stricter: no screen time at all.

The sedentary behavior, long periods of being restrained and sleep disorders caused by such excessive screen time are harmful especially to kids, said the WHO, stressing that children need more physical activity and interactions with real people.

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“Screen dependency disorder” (SDD), as the behavior is now called, is being recognized as an urgent public health-issue across the globe, as the use of electronic devices has become an inescapable part of modern society.

The American Academy of Pediatrics had previously released a similar warning about SDD in 2016. SDD is seen in children who pick up their gadgets immediately upon waking up, use their gadgets at the dinner table instead of eating, and watch screens

until they’re made to abandon the gadgets when they go to bed.

SDD is said to lead to insomnia, backache, bad nutrition and eyesight issues, among others, and also impairs actual social interaction, leading to feelings of isolation and depression.

SDD occurs in any form of overuse of gadgets, whether it be watching videos or using apps. Gaming addiction was also classified as a disorder by the WHO last year. And such addictive behavior, perhaps without many people knowing it, has become prevalent in the Philippines, a country enamored with gadgets, smartphones and the internet and is among the biggest social-media users in the world.

According to a recent ABS-CBN News report, the Singapore-based kids’ digital company, TotallyAwesome, determined that 8 out of 10 Filipino youth now prefer browsing the internet instead of watching TV shows.

The Department of Education’s National Council for Children’s Television, meanwhile, found out that children from Grades 1 to 3 average up to four hours of watching YouTube during weekdays, and up to seven hours of playing video games on weekends.

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Those findings spell danger in light of what the international think tank DQ Institute reported last year — that young Filipinos aged 8 to 12 scored below the global average in terms of basic screen time management. The global average was a score of 100; Filipinos scored 96.

“Since the Filipino students’ screen time management is lower than average, it is recommended that students learn about safe digital use before they own any mobile device or actively engage in digital media,” said Globe Telecom, DQ’s partner on the study, in a statement.

The same study indicated that Filipino children spent 4.85 hours a day (34 hours a week) in front of a digital screen, which is two hours longer than the average around the world.

In a 2017 study, DQ had warned that 73 percent of Filipino children were exposed to at least one online risk such as cyberbullying or inappropriate sexual behavior. And of all the gadgets available, Filipino children get internet access through that most ubiquitous — and largely unsupervised — device, the cell phone.

How crucial is limiting screen time for children?

Even Microsoft founder Bill Gates imposed such restrictions on his kids, refusing to let them use cell phones until they were 14, banning the gadgets altogether from the dinner table and controlling how close to bedtime his kids could use the devices.

“You’re always looking at how it can be used in a great way — homework and staying in touch with friends — and also where it has gotten to excess,” Gates said in 2017.

It is important to note that SDD is not a problem restricted to children; while it does not interfere with adult development the same way it does with children’s development, SDD can also wreak havoc on adults.

A 2014 Nielsen report said that adults now stay online for as much as 11 hours a day, ending up with a range of negative physical and mental health issues.

The WHO gave recommendations that make sense: Encourage children to be more physically active, make sure they sleep well and encourage human interaction. Yes, the internet can do wonders in exposing young Filipinos to the world around them, but health authorities are urging that this should be done judiciously, with parents and guardians closely monitoring screen time and enforcing the rules. Turn off that screen; live a full, real life.

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TAGS: gadget use, Inquirer editorial, internet addiction, screen dependency disorder, SDD, WHO, World Health Organization
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