If your 12-year-old was watching six hours of TV per day you would probably be concerned? What effect would that would have on their ability to concentrate on schoolwork, homework, sporting activities, hobbies, etc. – one can only hazard a guess.
Not exactly. A recent study of 12-year-olds in Singapore discovered that they were spending almost 46 hours per week, or 6.5 hours per day, on electronic devices such as smartphones and tablets. And 9-year-olds weren’t far behind averaging 24 hours per week, or about 3.5 hours daily in front of a screen.
The study was undertaken by Nanyang Technical University and the DQ Institute and surveyed 1,407 children aged 8 to 12 over a four-month period. What should be of greater concern is what they do online.
There is, if course, the constant threat of online dangers like bullying, inappropriate content and online grooming but the study found that children mainly use search engines, listen to music, watch videos and play video games.
It should be no surprise that the majority of time is spent on social media and chat applications – 77% with the older age group and 55% with the younger ones. What ever happened to kids getting together to play?
Now the norm seems to be communicating remotely via a smartphone, even if they are in the same room! As Dr Yuhun Park, founder of DQ Institute explained, the digital world is now the children’s playground.
Similar studies in other countries have consistently found excessive usage of mobile devices to be associated with poorer sleep quality which affects mood and mental capacity, and can lead to weaker school performance.
Because of their size, portable nature and ‘always connected’ mode it is more difficult for parents to police online usage times, let alone control them. And they, themselves, do not always set a good example.
Nowadays, we use smartphones to find answers to everything, solve the smallest problems, find our way around and do our banking, shopping and scheduling. Kids have obviously caught on quickly and are becoming dependant on the devices as well.
If it is so easy to do everything with a smartphone or tablet why, some children are asking, do I need to go to school or university and learn rote-fashion things that may be out of date in weeks or even days. Good point?
There are several programs to help children adopt good online habits. Dr Park himself launched a movement last month, known as #DQEveryChild, that aims to arm kids with digital citizen skills to navigate the Internet safely. It suggests that there are eight skills, such as digital empathy and critical thinking, that kids should acquire. Dr Park said: “The idea is to help our children be masters, not slaves, of technology.”
We may also need the same for parents to help them understand the cyber trends affecting their children. It’s an alien world to many that have not ventured much past Facebook themselves.
What should be of more concern just like sitting dormant for hours in front of a TV is the long periods of inactivity that comes with the new digital territory. Are we in danger of producing a generation of immobile zombies with incredible digital dexterity but with the social prowess of slugs?
This article was first published on our sister publication Disruptive.Asia