Children and High-Tech Addiction: A Look Beyond the U.S.

Recent surveys have established that children spend up to three hours a day looking at media (cell phones, desktop and laptop computers, television, etc.) not counting screen time in school. Except for the Alliance for Childhood and pediatricians, few, if any, civic leaders, business groups, and educational policymakers have questioned the ubiquity of 1:1 laptops,tablets, Kindles, and smart phones in schools. For those who rail at Moms talking on cell phones while toddlers scream for attention, for those who point fingers at colleagues being hooked on gadgets or addicted to cell phones, why have these critics not complained about giving each child an iPad, considering the hours of screen time viewed daily outside of school? For those who fear that young, easy-to-mold brains get rewired as these devices get daily classroom use, few  concerned citizens protest at school board meetings or even write letters to the editor.

If re-wiring the brain and addiction to high-tech gadgets have become rhetorical overkill–even hype–and the word “dependency” may be more appropriate as technology continues to shape our daily habits for both good and ill, then perhaps it is time to ask publicly whether the school should be a willing, even eager, partner in deepening children’s dependency on gadgets with screens.

A peek at Asian nations shows another strategy of dealing with high-tech addiction (or call it the less inflammatory “dependency”) among children.

 India has joined South Korea, China, Taiwan and Singapore in using dedicated technology addiction clinics to confront what many Asian-Pacific cultures consider to be a growing public health problem.

Doctors at the Bangalore clinic, run by the National Institute of Mental Health & Neurosciences (Nimhans), told The Indian Express that, typically, the patients being referred are children whose parents are concerned either by a sharp academic decline or their child withdrawing from family interactions.

 “Parents lament that their son or daughter is spending far too much time on the smartphone, or posting numerous photos on Facebook, or complaining of anxiety, loneliness and boredom when denied use of the device,” Dr. Manoj Kumar Sharma, one of the doctors running the Nimhans clinic, told the paper.

 The symptoms and nature of this perceived addiction vary from case to case but hinge around a perceived excessive engagement with a user’s smartphone, the Internet or social networking sites that comes at the expense of their mental well-being. Persistent checking of instant messaging apps and frequent changing of status updates – as well as the notorious uploading of ‘selfies’ – are linked in addiction cases to insomnia, depression and social withdrawal. ‘

 As these kind of treatment centers are yet to reach many Western countries, the act of admitting a child to a clinic for spending too much time on Facebook or playing with their smartphone may sound excessive….

 Schools concerned about the popularity of texting, selfies and multi-player online games have also been seeking help from the clinic. Some have asked for Nimhans staff to train their student counselors, or hold awareness camps and screening and rehabilitation programs for addicted students.

Or consider Singapore.

In Singapore, 87% of a population of 5.4 million own smartphones. By contrast, the US has a smartphone prevalence of 65% – which is considered low by the Asia-Pacific standard. Citizens of Singapore are also more indulgent users of social media, spending an average of 38 minutes per session on Facebook – about twice as long as the average American session.

Singapore has been the site of some of the world’s most pro-active technology addiction campaigns. A major ‘cyber wellness’ education program targeting preschool children is about to be launched, and the ‘Put it on friend mode’ campaign from Nanyang Technological University – which encouraged smartphone users to put their phones away while with loved ones – apparently drew major support.

Medical News Today asked Dr. Adrian Wang, a psychiatrist at the Gleneagles Medical Centre in Singapore, why he believes social media use has twice the impact in that country compared with the US. He considers the problem to be largely one of access to technology from an increasingly young age….

‘Many Singaporean kids – from as young as 7 or 8 – already have access to a smartphone or device,’ he says. ‘The habit grows from there. By their teens, most kids are pretty tech-savvy, and a combination of peer influence (everybody’s on Facebook or Whatsapp) and ease of access (cheap mobile devices) means everyone’s glued to their smartphone at some point of the day.’

Not only Indian and Singaporean health practitioners and middle-class parents are concerned about excessive use of devices outside of school. Many U.S. parents share that concern about children getting hooked on high-tech devices out of school. Still that concern has yet to prompt fear or even anger directed at school leaders who buy hardware, deploy devices to classrooms, and cheerlead for more and better software.




Filed under technology use

36 responses to “Children and High-Tech Addiction: A Look Beyond the U.S.

  1. JoeN

    The statistic that baffles me is this one, because their research specifically excluded school work and phones.

    ‘…on a typical day, 8 to 18 years… spend more than 7.5 hours using media – almost the equivalent of a full work day, except that they are using media seven days a week instead of five. Moreover, since young people spend so much of that time using two or more media concurrently, they are actually exposed to more than 10.5 hours of media content during that period. And this does not include time spent using the computer for school work, or time spent texting or talking on a cell phone.’ Generation M2 Media in the Lives of 8 to 18 Year-Olds, The Kaiser Foundation, 2010.

    If any individual child were reported to be spending 7.5 hours a day doing one thing, whatever it was (unless they were an elite athlete or musician) I would expect any professional teacher to be concerned enough to intervene.

  2. Seems to me we may have a “addiction/dependency” communication problem here. The current world globally is addicted/dependent on “tech”–whether low or high. Think of the electricity grids, the worry of “cybertech war,” and so on. And it’s going to get worse (or better, depending how you look at it). Think of drones, driverless cars, and so on, with the Internet of Things.

    Any “Technology (how-to)” can be abused as well as used. Responsible citizens–from the individual to the global citizenry– must/should do all we can to aid and abet the use and to eliminate and discourage the abuse.

    “Education leaders” are caught in the middle of the use-abuse duality. The IT sector spends jillions of dollars on R&D that generates tech systems for”home and business” use but zilch for education use. EdLand has to make do with generic hardware and software and junk instructional systems. But that’s a whole nother story.

    Incidentally, if we need “Tech-addiction” therapy in the US, it seems that we can outsource the service to India or Asia. as is being done with other “personal business processes.” But that also is a whole nother story.

  3. abbymevans2015

    This was fascinating to read. I never knew that countries had tech-addition facilities and now that I think about it I can’t tell if it is brilliant or ridiculous. As I am a 20 year old college student I don’t know how much younger kids use technology and while it is obviously way more than my generation did, do those kids need therapy or just to be on a sports team? or other extra-curricular activities? Now I know it is never that easy to solve a problem but I struggle with the thought of kids needing therapy because of technology.

  4. natercole

    As a member of the millennial generation, this doesn’t surprise me at all. I and my generation are incredibly addicted to the piece of plastic that can connect us to billions of people around the world. It’s a problem, and it’s a hard habit to kick when you’ve grown up in it.

    However, I think schools don’t help this trend with how much they push learning with technology, as if a whiteboard doesn’t do as much as one of the new smart boards. With every push we make to give every child access to a laptop or iPad, we complain about how our children won’t stop looking at screens. We continue to bemoan how much the child is becoming more and more addicted to his or her Facebook and/or Twitter, while we constantly search for ways to integrate social media into education. We’re essentially teaching the newer generations that technology is the only way to learn, but then scolding them for using this technology outside of the classroom. What do we expect?

  5. Pingback: Children and High-Tech Addiction: A Look Beyond...

  6. Joel VerDuin

    I generally find much agreement with your posts Dr. Cuban, but I have some different opinions after reading this one. I don’t deny the issues associated with high-tech addictions. What I have a different opinion on is how this should impact schools and their choices to use or shun technology (as it seems in your final paragraph you want people to push back against schools and their technology implementations).

    I, as much as anybody (probably), struggle with hype, poor planning, poor implementations, and lack of evidence-based progress in school technology adoptions, but I don’t equate that with the idea that nobody is doing it well. I also would not think it is a good strategy to starve a school system of technology as basic needs (and put aside the “transformative” talk for a moment and just think basic needs) are getting more difficult to meet without some access to technology.

    I’m not sure if I am describing my thoughts accurately, but it almost reads like you have a particular bone to pick with schools and how they do high-tech adoptions (and again, I am usually of the same mindset), but this nearly reads like a warning to avoid all technology instead of a call to doing the work well.

    • larrycuban

      Thanks, Joel, for taking the time to comment. I do have “a particular bone to pick” with how districts impose new devices and software on teachers. That “bone” is that teachers are usually the last people to know that smart boards, iPads, laptops have been bought and distributed. Teachers are seldom involved in the front end of the policy decision to use devices or software. But, Joel, I have no “bone” to pick with the varied and imaginative uses that many teachers have figured out to integrate smart phones, iPods, iPads, and laptops into their daily lessons.

  7. Is this a tech addiction or an tech evolution? Are we as humans evolving from a non-tech homo sapiens to a tech homo sapiens and the non-tech homo saps do not like or understand the evolution? The non-techs see socialization as a face-to-face interaction. Techs see social interaction as having nothing to do with actually being face-to-face. This blog is an excellent example. The availability of the knowledge and expertise on just this blog is totally beyond anything imaginable 50 years ago. Are the non-tech homo saps just trying to freeze tech evolution so they are in their comfort zone? I do not know. Maybe the direction technology is taking kids is the wrong direction but do we really know where it is going? Forty years ago when I was overseas contact time to home was 2 weeks one way. My last time overseas (2005) it was seconds. Evolution.

    • larrycuban

      Garth, homo sapiens has been using technology–tools, fire, etc.–since–well–you get the point. It is the technological changes that have been slow and fast and meant swift and evolving changes in how we live, work, communicate, etc. Whether our reliance on the new,new technology is another form of ancient dependency or addiction, I will leave to others to determine. Thanks for commenting.

  8. I don’t presume to be an expert on any given subject, especially technology and the effects it can have within any context, but I like gflint’s point that we don’t know what direction technology is taking the kids of the newest generations. Maybe it’s NOT a good one, but maybe technology in the classroom is helping, rather than hurting, the way students think about technology. Information for these kids is EVERYWHERE and it is incredibly accessible now, but then the obvious question that comes with readily accessible information is the problem of reliability. Learning what reliable sources are and how to find them is what students need to be taught if technology is going to continue to have increasing salience within the classroom, in my opinion.

  9. JoeN

    This discussion has honed in on what is surely, the essential question. Faced with immense cultural and commercial pressure to adopt new technology, what should professional teachers do to ensure pupils benefit? Michael Barber’s initiative at Pearson (below) is the best effort I’m aware of yet, to try and answer that question. Although I have my doubts about the crude analogy between pharmacology and education it relies on.

    Just in case readers of Larry’s blog simply see the word “Pearson” and react. I have met this team, I understand exactly what they are trying to do and even more surprising for me, their processes are genuinely permeating the entire company. Certainly in the UK.

    • larrycuban

      As always, Joe, thanks for sending the link to Pearson’s Efficacy Toolkit. I had not seen the model before–the four questions asked in particular.

      • “Four questions” give a whole nother meaning to “toolkit.” The thing about Pearson’s questions is that they can easily be answered with BS. Here are four questions I think have more “efficacy,” to use Pearson’s foggy term:

        What do you want to do?
        Can you roughly sketch how you are going to go about doing it?
        How will you know you have done it?
        How much time and money will it take?

        These are questions that even little kids are prepared to answer, but most people are stumped by them when it comes to matters educational.

      • larrycuban

        Thanks for the comment, Dick.

      • larrycuban

        They are close to the questions that Ralph Tyler, the guru on evaluation between the 1930s and 1970s asked.

  10. haileynt1023

    As a college student, I definitely see this problem first hand every day. In high school, my school supplied each student with a Mac and teachers were even encouraged to incorporate them into their lessons. So often, the computers became more of a distraction than a learning tool and became a hinderance in our classes. This “dependency” is so real. Going off to college, so many of my friends were lost without their computers in their classes and had to re-learn how to be in a classroom not filled with technology. Although our technology advancement did provide our school with many advantages, the day to day usage of technology became a struggle to control.

  11. I personally find myself attached to my devices and constantly returning to social networking services that I sometimes wonder if this is normal and healthy myself. It’s even comforting to know that I have the sense to question my habits since there must be a growing population of students, who do not realize that they are developing a dependency on technology. I’d like to hear more about these “clinics” and how they attempt to separate children from the increasingly ubiquitous technology and whether they actually help.

  12. True. I hadn’t realized that. Tyler is all-but forgotten these days, but the “school choice” enthusiasts would have done well to look at the “Ten Year Study.” NAEP and the testing industry would would have better served, had their mission creep not strayed so far from Tylers views. And much of the current “testing” imbruglia would have been avoided by paying attention to Tyler.

  13. Ooops. The Feb10 7:19 am comment references Larry’s Feb 6 1:15 pm comment. (Handling “simple tech” can really screw things up. I’d like to say I flubbed intentionally to make this point, but I just didn’t know what I was doing.)

    Re khjinni’s Feb 9 11:11 pm comment. The “clinics” are a cameo in the larger collage that Yong Zhou has been talking about:
    But that’s a whole nother story.

  14. bgaudette

    Being hooked on technology can be a bad thing for sure. Honestly too much of anything is bad. Condemning all technology seems wrong. Incorporating technology in a lesson plan the right way can be affective though. We know kids respond well to technology, so why dont we use technology to teach them. Using what kids like to get them to learn seems like a good plan to me.

  15. devin17h

    Technology and social media can have positive functions in education. It allows students without a decent library to access thousands of books and tons of information about a topic that interests them. It also acclimates students to a world in which the social skills and social norms of social media are ever important. It also allows them to engage with technology that they may one day use within their field. But I would agree that there is a trend towards over-dependence on technology is troubling. How would you advocate balancing the need to prepare students for a technological world while also preparing them for the more tangible world around them?

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