Breaking the digital habit

By Liu Sheng Source:Global Times Published: 2013-12-25 18:23:01

Illustration: Lu Ting/GT

Illustration: Lu Ting/GT

Whenever I enter a restaurant, I'm presented with the sight of diners who, having ordered their dishes, are now hunched in the same position - heads bowed as they immerse themselves in their smartphones or pads.

While the death of the art of pre-dinner chitchat at the hands of our electronic companions may be a blessing as well as a curse, depending on the dinner company you keep, more worrying is the increasing amount of time our children spend bewitched by these digital devices.

The games, sounds and images that can be conjured up at the swipe of a finger make these devices like magnets that draw children's attention from the world around them.

And of course, for the harried parent who wants to keep their child occupied, the temptation of using an iPad as a pacifier is hard to resist.

It is disturbing to imagine what kind of future society we are laying the foundations of.

One glimpse at what may be comes from Shanghai First People's Hospital, which found that 41 percent of the city's teenagers suffer from neck and shoulder pain. Researchers found that long-term use of tablet computers was the main reason.

There are also cases of other health problems that have been inflicted on youngsters through extended use of tablets and phones.

Examples include the boy of two and a half from Wuhan who developed extreme nearsightedness after using an iPad intensively for a year; and the teenage girl from Hangzhou who became partially paralyzed after spending too much time hunched in the same position, looking down at her mobile phone.

Though these devices have changed our lives for the better in many ways, we need to think about limiting the amount of time children spend using them.

It is easy for us to forget that these devices are not a necessity. Our kids won't suffer disease or lack important nutrients if they are deprived the use of an iPad. On the contrary, they might be stimulated to socialize more, make friends, go outdoors, and engage with their imaginations and the world around them.

Games like jump rope and hide-and-seek are in danger of falling to the wayside, replaced by these devices. In a picture that was widely spread online, four kids were sitting around a table all absorbed in their own iPads; however, they were playing an online game together.

Heavy use of these devices could impact the development of children's brains and vision, while spending excessive time using these devices means they will miss out on important exercise and on developing social skills.

Parents play a major role in the access children have to these devices. In the case of the boy in Wuhan, his mother admitted that she would hand him the iPad every time he cried. She also downloaded many apps aimed at kids, hoping her son would learn from using the device.

But parents should resist the temptation to use the iPad to keep their kids occupied. They should limit the number of times their child can use the device each day, and the length of time of each session. Parents should also limit their own use of such devices, as children look to their parents to set an example, and imitate their behavior.

After all, in children's eyes, parents are always better company than an iPad.

Posted in: TwoCents, Metro Shanghai

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