Would screen time curbs help mental health of children? - South China Morning Post


Would screen time curbs help mental health of children?

Should Hong Kong consider limiting children's screen time? The proliferation of electronic devices and the rise of addictive social media have prompted much soul-searching over the years about their impact on physical and mental health – especially among children.

Recently, The Economist analysed suicide data from 17 developed countries (including the United Kingdom, Germany, the United States, South Korea and Australia) between 2003 and 2021, and found that the suicide rate among young women, especially girls aged 10-19, had risen sharply over the past decade. This coincides with the rise of social media. Is there a correlation between social media consumption and poorer mental health?

The jury is still out, but in light of the heightened concern over young people's mental health, I believe we should pay more attention to the ill effects of too much screen time ("Rise in suicides among young Hongkongers sparks calls for more action", June 12).

In Hong Kong, 86.7 per cent of children aged 10-14 own a mobile phone. According to a survey last year, primary school pupils here spend a daily average of four hours on digital devices on weekdays, and up to six hours during weekends and public holidays. These figures are comparable to those elsewhere. Both in the US and Japan, polls last year found that teenagers spend on average nearly five hours a day online.

Some authorities are doing something about it. The US state of Florida passed a bill in March this year banning the use of social media by children under the age of 14. On the mainland, the authorities are planning to limit children's smartphone use to no more than two hours a day. The UK government considered banning the sale of mobile phones to people under 16.

As the Hong Kong government rolls out various programmes to support students' mental health, including a mechanism to identity suicide risks in schools, maybe it should also look into students' screen time and internet behaviour.

Meanwhile, parents should be aware that forcing children to stop using social media would usually only lead to conflict but have little effect. Experts have suggested negotiating a screen use schedule with children and arranging more outdoor activities for weekends.




Dr. Winnie Tang
Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering; Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences; and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong