Commentary: More screen time won’t ruin your kids’ ability to read books

Commentary: More screen time won’t ruin your kids’ ability to read books


In our Temasek Foundation Innovates research project, we found that children are spending more time on their screens after the COVID-19 pandemic. Compared to the pre-pandemic period, 18.5 per cent more children spent over one hour daily perusing English materials on digital devices post-pandemic. We also found that parents have become more receptive to their child’s device use not only for learning and communication, but also for entertainment.  

Longer screen time for children is not as negative as some may think it is. The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP), while maintaining the importance of control and moderation in screen time for young children, has recognised that age-appropriate and educational digital content can bridge the learning achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their peers.

The rise of a wired generation does not mean the end of deep reading. Over the years, the number of e-books and other online resources loaned out by the National Library Board (NLB) has been on a steady increase, with usage growing by 2.1 million to 82.7 million in 2022. NLB also has a mobile app to facilitate the borrowing of e-books for reading on digital devices.

However, reading on mobile phones and tablets is potentially distracting given the presence of other apps on these devices. E-readers, on the other hand, are designed to be optimised for the reading of long-form texts. They are also now relatively inexpensive, and can be used by students for deep reading.

For younger children, ways to encourage deep reading include reading aloud to them or with them. Putting time aside for reading together, just as we put aside time for excursions and play, is important to cultivating habitual reading. It is also important for adults to engage in conversation with children about the book to enhance their understanding and enjoyment of it.

These habits will help a new generation develop a “biliterate brain” – a term coined by Maryanne Wolf – that can engage in both deep and digital reading. Rather than view them in opposition to each other, we need to intentionally cultivate these literacies in our kids, in tandem with the evolving times.

Victor Lim Fei is Associate Professor, in the English Language and Literature Academic Group, at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University. Sun He is a Senior Education Research Scientist and Assistant Centre Director at the Centre for Research in Child Development. Loh Chin Ee is Associate Professor and Deputy Head (Research) in the English Language and Literature Academic Group.