FOCUS: Japanese parents urged to set limits on children's internet use

FOCUS: Japanese parents urged to set limits on children’s internet use

As kids spend more and more time on the internet, a health science professor asks parents to consider trying an American mom’s hands-on approach that sets strict rules and allows kids to have a healthier online life.

Zentaro Yamagata, a professor of social medicine at Yamanashi University, and others who have conducted research on children in Koshu, Yamanashi Prefecture, and their use of the Internet have found that junior high school students who show the telltale signs of online addiction spend long periods browsing the web. — meaning they spend less time studying, exercising and sleeping.

A high school student looks at a smartphone in a photo taken in Tokyo in September 2018. (Kyodo)

Too much screen time was also linked to depression, said Yamagata, who has studied children for more than 30 years.

A national study conducted by the Ministry of Education and other agencies in fiscal year 2014 found that children who spend the most time on smartphones and other devices perform worse in Japanese, arithmetic , in mathematics and in other tests.

The photo provided shows Zentaro Yamagata, a professor of social medicine at Yamanashi University. (Kyodo)

Therefore, he argues, parents should think about placing appropriate parameters on their children’s internet and gadget use, taking a page from Janell Burley Hofmann, a mother from Massachusetts whose “iPhone contract” blog to her then 13-year-old son went viral a decade prior.

“This attempt by an American mother has attracted worldwide attention and can be used as a reference today (in Japan),” Yamagata said, referring to Hofmann’s 18-point contract which she had her husband accept. son before giving him his first iPhone for Christmas.

The list of rules and regulations began with the mother stating, “This is my phone. I bought it. I’m paying for it. I’m lending it to you,” and later stipulating that the device should be given to one of the boy’s parents. the night.

Hofmann warned his son against using “technology to lie” or saying “something through this device that you wouldn’t say in person.” She encouraged him to appreciate and see the physical world around him. “Walk around. Talk to a stranger. Marvel without Googling.”

A Cabinet Office survey in fiscal year 2021 found that children of all ages in Japan were spending more time on the internet than the previous year. Those aged 10 to 17 used it for an average of 4 hours and 24 minutes a day, while the youngest were online for an average of 1 hour and 50 minutes.

The survey found that 97.7% of children aged 10 to 17 and 74.3% of younger children said they use the Internet, mainly to “watch videos” on smartphones, tablets, game consoles and television, among other devices.

In 2018, a research group from the Ministry of Health estimated that 930,000 middle and high school students in Japan were addicted to the internet.

Although it is a useful tool for information gathering and communication, there is some evidence that the Internet leads to a decline in academic ability. Experts such as Yamagata say parents and children should find ways to use the positive aspects of the internet while prioritizing real-world experiences.

In concluding her contract with her son, Hofmann even tells him if she might have to confiscate his phone from time to time when he breaks the rules: “We’ll sit down and talk about it. We’ll start over … I’m in your team.”

Yamagata says this clear stance from a parent to support their child’s internet use in a healthy way, while acknowledging their desire to be online, is essential.

“We’re not saying kids can’t use the internet or smartphones. It’s just that the time it takes a growing child to sleep, study, play outside and help around the house may be reduced. .”

He suggested, “How about creating a rule that you first secure the necessary time and use the extra time for internet or playing games?”

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