SINGAPORE: Survey results last month showed that nearly four in five parents in the United Kingdom favour a smartphone ban for children younger than 16. One woman has suggested that Singapore should follow suit.

Ms Ng Poh Leng wrote a letter published in The Straits Times Forum titled “Time to look into restricting mobile phone use among the young.” In it, she noted that Smartphone Free Childhood, a parent-led movement in the UK, is gaining popularity.

“To protect our children from the harms of premature smartphone ownership, we need a whole-of-society approach,” Ms Ng noted, adding that seeing young children and their parents using mobile phones side-by-side causes her heart to sink.

I hope that perhaps at home, the parent would limit the child’s screen time, read to him or talk to him at mealtimes, and that they share more face-to-face time,” she added.

However, if this is not the case, parents could have difficulty curbing their children’s phone time, and children may end up using their phones at all hours.

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With the advent of artificial intelligence and robotics, what will give humans the edge is the ability to communicate, collaborate, persuade and lead.

Do we want our children to be passive consumers of others’ videos, news feeds and advertisements, or to be producers or entrepreneurs?” she asked, underlining children’s need to develop important skills such as observation, empathy, and critical thinking.

Ms Poh noted that many parents working in Silicon Valley delay allowing their children to use smartphones, impose limits on their usage, and send them to schools where these phones are not allowed.

Excessive screen time, especially among children, is a problem that needs urgent action from parents, schools, the Government and tech companies.

If implemented widely, the Smartphone Free Childhood idea can buy time for parents to build their children’s fundamental skills, such as in reading, self-expression and creativity, and to nurture screen-time discipline before they own a mobile phone,” she added.

As of February this year, over 4500 parents joined Smartphone Free Childhood in the UK, which started as a mum’s WhatsApp group.

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When one of the group’s founders, Ms Daisy Greenwell, posted about the group on Instagram, 1000 members signed up within 24 hours.

In the UK, 44 per cent of children own a smartphone by the time they are nine, and 91 per cent do so by the age of 11.

In 2021, the Singapore College of Paediatrics and Child Health and Academy of Medicine made a consensus statement on 24-hour activity guidelines for children aged 7 to 18 years.

One of the recommendations was to limit recreational screen time as much as possible, suggesting less than two hours of recreational screen usage daily. /TISG

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