Digital devices may hamper children’s growth, says expert

A clinical psychologist says parents should resist the temptation of giving their children digital devices to pacify or distract them. (Unsplash pic)

PETALING JAYA: A clinical psychologist has warned parents that the use of digital devices to pacify or distract their children may lead to undesirable consequences.

Dr Hilwa Abdullah of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia said an overdependence on such devices may affect the development of a child’s social skills.

“This includes problems making eye contact, making friends, learning to take turns and instructions, as well as conversing. “The lack of these social skills can prove problematic once the children go to schools,” she told FMT.

Hilwa, who specialises in the mental health and psychology of children and adolescents, said some children will have problems functioning without the devices and would start throwing tantrums.

“When this happens, parents don’t know how to deal with it. There are no shortcuts to parenting and giving a child a gadget is a shortcut,” she said.

As a parent herself, she said she understood that many people wanted time to themselves and this was why digital devices were so tempting.

“Unfortunately, most people only find out the hard way when their children are affected.”

She said parents should resist the urge to give their children a device, even when they throw a tantrum; gadgets should be the last option for a distraction.

“Arrange play dates for children with other families, or play board games or simple games with them like hide and seek, or come up with your own games.

“For example, if my family goes out to eat at a restaurant, I bring blank paper and pencils, and while waiting for our food, I ask them to draw five things they see in a restaurant.”

Malaysian Medical Association president Dr N Ganabaskaran said there are a number of studies that indicate that the overuse of digital devices at an early age can affect a child’s brain development.

“The affected child may have difficulty in interacting with people around them. This can be serious if this addictive behaviour continues into adulthood.”

Parents, he said, should limit their children’s screen time during early age.

“But, most importantly, they should set a good example by limiting their own usage of these devices,” he said.

Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy CEO Azrul Mohd Khalib said it is hard for parents to resist using digital devices to “take care” of their children’s needs.

“It would be unrealistic to expect parents not to give their children digital devices. There must be a set of guidelines to help parents make the best decisions in governing the use of digital devices by their children.”

Azrul said parents should opt for more outdoor activities for their children or enrol them in playschools where they can be exposed to other children their own age.

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