Nowadays, it is nearly impossible to bar children from using digital devices like smartphones and tablets, especially if they have become useful and effective tools for learning.
However, there has been an alarming trend of Hong Kong children accessing smart devices too early and too much, according to the Department of Health.
Parents should stay alert as the use of smartphones and tablets would adversely affect children in their growth and development and even interpersonal skills, as well as sleep quality, could be compromised.
A research report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics last year found that both sleep quality and quantity suffer when children are overly exposed to a digital media-rich environment in their bedroom since it would tend to make them sleep less and later.
When children and teenagers have been checking instant messages, browsing social media platforms or playing mobile games before sleep, their brain would be overstimulated, making it harder to fall asleep.
In addition, the bright light emitted by the screen would also suppress the secretion of sleep-inducing melatonin by the pineal gland, which would further worsen the sleep quality and disturb the body’s biological clock.
It was also found that lack of sleep, whether temporary or long-term, would reduce appetite, which increases the risks of developing obesity or type 2 diabetes.
On top of these, heavy use of digital media could put children and teenagers at risk of developing attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), affecting their memory capabilities, lengthening their reaction time, and causing emotional distress, anxiety or depression.
It is needless to say how detrimental it is to young people in terms of academic pursuit and resilience against illnesses.
Although there has been research on these problems, there have not been enough findings on how mobile devices affect children’s development.
At present, it largely depends on parents and teachers to remind children and students not to use too much smart gadgets.
If there are games like the one by Tencent that attract the government’s concerns, limited login periods and real name registration should be imposed.
Individual companies could consider giving regular reminders to adolescent users regarding their usage or advising them to take breaks whenever they have been logged on for overextended periods to help users cut screen time.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 8
Translation by John Chui with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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