SINGAPORE, June 7 — When Dr Jiow Hee Jhee’s eldest daughter Gabriella received her first smartphone at the age of 11, he got her to sign a “Smart Device Ownership” contract — a list of usage parameters, as well as his concerns and expectations of her mobile phone use.
“When I saw her proving to be a responsible media user, we gradually migrated to version two of the contract. By the third version, she was allowed to be on social media like Instagram,” said Dr Jiow, 45, an Assistant Professor at the Health and Social Sciences faculty of the Singapore Institute of Technology and a member of the Media Literacy Council.
“She’s no longer on the contract, but what I found amazing was how she deleted Instagram from her phone on her own a few months ago because she felt it was a distraction to her studies — that shows her maturity in media usage,” he said.
Having carried out research on Singapore children’s media habits, the father of four children aged six to 13 knows well the dangers of excessive media use within the family.
In his research, Dr Jiow found that one of the top reasons for high media consumption in children here is that parents are using smart devices as babysitting tools, and leaving their young ones unsupervised.
“In addition, some parents use media excessively, and this influences their children to follow their media habits,” he said.
Like the late tech maestro Steve Jobs, who limited the amount of technology his children used, Dr Jiow has kept to a relatively low-tech parenting style.
For example, mobile phones and other devices are off-limits during family gatherings and mealtimes — not that the children mind, as they love interacting with one another.
Most of their screen time is carried out for school work or as a family, such as a family movie date, or viewing Facebook content and sports videos together on a computer placed in the living room. On his part, Dr Jiow practises what he preaches and tries not to access his devices once he is off work.
“The kids did not get any screen time before the age of two. We also started them on sports and outdoor activities from a young age, so digital media does not have such a strong hold on them,” he said.
That said, Dr Jiow acknowledged that appropriate and guided use of digital media has its benefits, and forbidding usage might backfire.
For example, had he not allowed his daughter to have a mobile phone or to use WhatsApp, which she needed to communicate with her co-curricular activity team mates, she might have been socially ostracised, he said.
“Ultimately, it depends on what the media device is being used for. For example, if the child spends time on the internet researching school work, you can’t say it’s bad because it serves an academic function,” he said.
Finally, parents need to be good role models when it comes to media usage.
“Some parents may feel that communication is best done over media but I personally see media as a tool — it is supposed to assist (in) communication, not replace it,” said Dr Jiow. — TODAY