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.