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THE CONCERNS OF EXPERTS AND EDUCATORS

By: Dave Gordon



Are smartphonesbenefiting children,or hindering theirability tofunction?

That is a question with a not-so-simple answer. Current research shows that parents may have reason to worry and certainly need to be vigilant about their children’s usage.

A 2012 Neilson survey revealed that the average teen sends more than three thousand texts a month – about seven an hour.

Even more disconcerting: The Kaiser Family Foundation found that the average child spends about as much time in front of a screen on a daily basis as they do sitting in a classroom. More than ninety percent of children have all-day access to a digital screen.

It is the effect of these habits that have so many parents, educators and medical professionals, nervous. Experts say that in some extreme cases, children’s sleep cycles are disrupted; their attention spans are off-kilter, they miss homework deadlines, they become bullies or the recipient of bullying, and can’t communicate maturely – all because they are so consumed with their mobile devices.

Children and their devices have become inseparable. One study from the Pew Research Center’s Report brought down that three quarters of preteens and teenagers sleep all night with their cell phones under their pillow. The presumed purpose of this is to not miss calls, emails or texts received overnight, a form of addictive behaviour that is more than just a bad habit. In the hours of the night meant for sleep, kids are still awaiting calls and messages. They never truly unplug.

It gets worse: The National Academy of Sciences says that using phones at night could severelydisrupt sleep. That’s right, severely. Another study found that using a smartphone at night reduces the next day’s productivity. All-night radio waves emitting from the phones could result in children’s diminished ability to think clearly.

In light of these and other studies, some countries – including Belgium, France and India – have passed laws that require wireless devices to have warnings for children. And in our community one prominent educator has implored parents to spot the warning signs of a generation tethered to their digital devices.

CONCERNED EDUCATORS

Rabbi Meyer Yedid of Yeshivat Derech Eres recently addressed its elementary school parent body on March 22, at Kol Yaakov. He spoke with urgency of the negative effects smartphones have in children, included cyberbullying, deteriorating communication skills, and academic performance.

While he acknowledged the many benefits of modern cell phones, such as having a GPS and an encyclopedia at one’s fingertips, he expressed deep concern over their negative effects on children.

One statistic he cited was that, today, 25%  of American children between the ages of two and five own a smartphone, paving the way for early-onset dependency or addiction, it has become the must-have “toy”, he added. “Smart phones and tablets have now replaced basketballs and baby dolls on a child’s wish list. Remember when children used to go play?  Play at the park, at a basketball game, ride their bikes, go jogging?” he asked the audience. “Elementary school aged children start asking – let’s say begging– for these forms of technology, before they can even tie their own shoes.”

The negative impacts are various, including the serious implications of viewing immoral, inhumane, and illegal photos and videos, to the perils of children becoming obsessed with
their phones.

 Rabbi Yedid reminded YDE parents that children tend to be more impulsive and irrational on their mobile devices than they ever would be in person, leading to alienation from and discord among their classmates.  “Smart phones give a child the ability to post with impulse, to post things that one day you will regret or she will regret. It’s hard for a young person to appreciate the
long-term effect of a push of a button.”

Cyberbullying is evidence of that issue. The phenomenon has become a mounting problem with the increase of social media usage. “The level of cruelty that a person will be able to do with his phone is much more than he would do in person. He can hide behind his screen name. You’ll never know who he is. You’ll have people using words through text that they would never say in person,” insisted the rabbi. “It’s permanent damage!” The rabbi painted a clear picture of how lives become ruined through the dissemination of digital media. “I don’t remember everything that someone said to me, or said about me, but when it is in digital form, it just stays there for people to watch, and people to share. That picture never goes away. You don’t know who has it. You don’t know who’s sharing it. You don’t want to look up again.”

The cyberbullying problem has gotten serious enough that many school boards have put an outright ban on mobile devices. In the Japanese city of Kariya, 13,000 schoolchildren between ages six and fifteen are forbidden to use their phones after 9 PM. Meanwhile, at the UK Burnage Media Arts College, they noticed student grades markedly increasing after their cell phone ban was put in place. Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, found that banning cell phones was the equivalent to adding five extra days of school.

Here in our community, we need to regain this productivity. In his speech, Rabbi Yedid lamented how children have neglected their homework in favour of time spent in front of the screen.

Not only are children’s school performance suffering, they’re social skills are deteriorating too. Because of cell phones, children aren’t developing the requisite skills to interact with other children; they lack the acquired knowledge to communicate with each other as human beings.

“Today, people have thousands of followers, and not one (real) friend,” Rabbi Yedid said. Imagine what would happen if a child unplugged the phone and made a connection.

A study from Computers in Human Behavior has shown that children who spent nearly a week without exposure to a digital screen were “substantially better” at social interaction.

Armed with this information, educators and parents must now monitor carefully their child’s smartphone usage, to ensure responsible behaviour. “We are the first generation of parents in the age of smart phones, and it is our obligation to learn how to be parents of this new generation,” Rabbi Yedid said in the lecture. “As parents we need to be educated about the impact that these devices can have on our children, and their growth.”

The reality is that smartphones are getting, well, smarterwith increasing functionality by the month. The truth of the matter is,  it’s too late to go back in time and offer our children last decade’s flip-phones, capable of little else but phone calls. Butthe consolation is this: Because parents pay for their children’s phone service, they can easily oversee a child’s phone account, ensuring that certain features are limited and that use is minimized.

Experts advise parents to teach their children about the responsibilities of having a cell phone, and make them aware of its possible negative effects. To be sure, parents are busy enough teaching their children good values and kosher behavior, but this topic, too, ought to be discussed and enforced with discipline.  If we give cell phone use appropriate focus, we just may find ourselves with more attentive and connected children, ready to live their lives with purpose.