Will children miss out without smartphones?

I have a confession. I get irritated seeing children, young ones especially, being hooked on smartphones, or tablets.

The sight of an entire family (toddlers included) glued to their devices, while dining at a restaurant, where no one talks to one another, is something I cannot fathom.

Call me old-fashioned, but I still prefer seeing children reading, colouring, drawing, or even playing board games.

I know what some of you are going to say.

“Are you serious? Do you have a kid? Do you know what it’s like raising a kid in this digital age?”

Yes, I am serious. I have a little boy. And yes, I know it’s not easy trying to keep a device away from a child when all his friends have gadget(s) of their own.

I am not too sure if it’s something to be proud of, but I have, so far, been able to keep the phone and tab away from my son. He turns six in three weeks.

What then, does he do to keep himself occupied, especially when we are out?

Apart from talking, he reads and plays tic-tac-toe with me or my better half, or colours while waiting for his food to arrive, or when he is done with his meal.

Sometimes, we hit the jackpot, as there are still a handful of eateries that provide quiz sheets and colour pencils to young ones.

I admit, planning an outing does take a bit more effort, to pack board, or card games, like Donkey, Happy Family, Snakes and Ladders, or Chequers.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not a hardliner, for the little one does watch cartoons on the television at home. Due to the pandemic, he started school virtually. His dad and him occasionally also ‘battle it out’ on the PlayStation.

While my other half and I believe in nurturing our son’s love for the outdoors, I cannot help but sometimes wonder if he’s losing out, or feels left out, by not being on a handheld device.

A 2018 survey by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission revealed that 92 per cent of children aged 5 to 17 used the Internet, and that 91.8 per cent of these children accessed the Internet from a smartphone.

A 2017 study by Cybersecurity Malaysia found that 92 per cent of students aged 13 to 17 had social media accounts.

On Thursday, it was revealed that some 100,000 internet-using Malaysian children, aged 12-17, experienced online child sexual exploitation and abuse in the past year.

These experiences ranged from grooming, being offered money or gifts in exchange for sexual images, being threatened or blackmailed to engage in sexual acts, and having their images shared without permission.

There is so much information one can find online which lists down some of the problems associated with smartphone addiction. These include poor communication skills, poor attention span, and children having poor eyesight from a young age due to the excessive use of their phones.

There are also reports that suggest children who use mobile devices for a longer period often suffered behavioural problems in self-regulation. Children will also be prone to unstable emotional outbursts, exhibit impulsive behaviour, experience emotional disturbances, become aggressive and misbehave, and have limited interaction with peers at school.

At the same time, I also know many kids who are on these devices, and they seem fine to me.

So, what does one do? What does one say when the young one finally says he wants one?

I had my first phone when I was 19. I used it to make calls, send out text messages and play snake.

But it’s no longer the same. A phone isn’t just a phone these days. Today, a mobile phone enables you to  “see” family and friends practically every day. The latest news and information are also available at our fingertips.

From banking to booking a flight, to buying food, a smartphone has become an integral part of society.

However, I admit, I remain skeptical if the benefits outweigh the risks, especially for children.

As such, I’ll try and keep it away from my little one for as long as I can.

Indeed, parenting in the age of screens is no easy task.


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