SETTING LIMITS: Overexposure could lead to developmental problems in children
KUALA LUMPUR: PARENTS who expose their children to too much television and information technology (IT) gadgets may be putting their child’s mental development at risk, especially those below the age of 3.
President of Early Childcare and Education Council (ECCE Council) Prof Datuk Dr Chiam Heng Keng said television should never be used as “babysitters” or “educational” tools.
“Scientific studies by neuroscientists have shown that for 100 billion neurons (brain cells) to be wired to form neural paths, a young child needs to interact with human beings and things in their environment.
“In other words, for the brain of children 3 years and below to develop, interaction with people and real things are required.”
Dr Chiam said no interactions occur when young children watch TV and play with gadgets, even though they may be entertained.
A review on the effects of television on infants in an influential medical journal, Archives of Diseases, urged the British government to set limits on the amount of time children are allowed to watch television.
Psychologist Dr Aric Sigman, who wrote the review, said that negative effects on their health kicked in after about two hours of sitting still, with increased long-term risks of obesity and heart problems.
“The critical time for brain growth is the first three years of life. That is when babies and small children need to interact with their parents, eye-to-eye, and not with a screen,” said Dr Sigman, as quoted in British-based newsportal, the Guardian.
Echoing the views of Dr Sigman and doctors from the British Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Dr Chiam said children needed to be active as movement was crucial for them to develop physically.
“A child’s physical agility has significant impact on their mental agility. Interaction with their environment develops many aspects (spatial ability, creativity and problem solving).”
Often, children exposed to television and gadgets early in life tend to get addicted to it. Dr Chiam said that in quite a number of cases, children could also become socially isolated.
“They are so glued to the television or addicted to a computer/iPad that they do not socialise, even with their families. They rush through their meals so that they can get back to the computer.”
Dr Chiam said in Malaysia, the issue had not received the attention it deserved, especially from parents who still used television and gadgets to keep their children occupied. “Implementing guidelines on television exposure for children can be tricky in Malaysia as no research has been done on the topic.”
The Welfare Department under the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry said it was imperative that the issue be studied.
Its Senior Assistant Director (children affairs) Mumtaj Begum Mohd Sultan said that the department, through their Planning and Development Division could facilitate research with local universities.
“The department will be able to make plans for such research to be conducted in the near future.
“This issue has to be discussed thoroughly as it is a multi-sectoral responsibility involving the government sector as well as the social sector, especially parents.”