Myth #1: Screen time is educational for my child
It is far better for a child to learn through their senses – taste, touch, sight, sound, smell – as they explore their environment and interact with other people, said Dr Jennifer Kiing, a senior consultant at the National University Hospital’s child development unit.
Screen time is associated with speech delays because the screen is a passive medium. The child does not have to reply to it, she said.
Parents said screen time enabled their child to learn the alphabet and some songs, for instance, added Dr Kiing. “But it is often at the expense of their ability to speak conversationally and respond to social cues from the adults around them,” she explained.
“We see too many children who stop looking at people when they have spent too much time in front of a screen.”
Myth #2: I need to use technology to get my child to eat
When children are accustomed to eating with a screen in front of them, they learn to eat by distraction, said Dr Kiing. “Over time, parents will find that it takes longer for these children to finish a meal. I have encountered families whose children take one hour to finish a meal in front of a screen.”
Children need to understand that eating is a social and enjoyable activity. “They need to explore the taste and textures and learn to eat by themselves, initially with their hands, then with a spoon,” said Dr Kiing. “The best way to do this is to eat with our children at meal times whenever possible so they can imitate what we do.”
Myth #3: "Screen time" is my babysitter
Screen time cannot be used to replace a babysitter, said Dr Kiing.
“The recommendation is that if a two-year-old is viewing the screen, an adult needs to be sitting next to him, making meaning of what he is viewing.”
Instead of a screen, parents or caregivers can let a young child play in a play yard. This way, the child can get used to being alone in a play yard while parents or caregivers do chores around the house, she said.
“Don’t wait until a child walks and climbs to use a play yard as he will try and climb out.”
Play yards should be big enough to fit an adult and child comfortably and to have toys which are not choking hazards, Dr Kiing said.
Myth #4: Learning to read is a natural process
Reading is a skill that has to be taught and developed. It does not occur naturally, said Dr Chitra Ramalingam, a specialist in paediatric medicine and consultant at Raffles Children Centre.
Research has found that reading to children at home helps with their imagination and creative thinking, as well as their vocabulary and comprehension skills.
“Recent research in Australia suggests that the frequency of reading to pre-school children has a significant positive effect on their reading and cognitive (that is, language and literacy, numeracy and cognition) skills later in life,” she said.
Myth #5: Children should attend many enrichment classes
It is important that children participate in various activities, but parents should ensure they do not force their kids into doing activities they dislike, said Dr Ramalingam.
These classes help parents discover their child’s interests and to encourage him to pursue it in the long term, she said.
It might be worth cultivating an interest in life skills, such as swimming, cycling and running, at a young age.
Myth #6: Children with above average weight and height are healthy
Pre-schoolers should be encouraged to adopt healthy eating habits and have adequate physical activity and good sleep every day.
They do not need to have above average weight (above the 50th percentile on growth charts) to be healthier, said Dr Ramalingam.
They are considered healthy as long as they continue to gain weight and grow in height, she said.
Childhood obesity can lead to diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, arthritis and other health issues. It also affects children’s self-esteem and has implications on their physical and mental well-being, said Dr Ramalingam.
(Text: Joyce Teo, Straits Times / Additional reporting: Natalya Molok)