Let’s Expand Young People’s Worlds beyond Limits of Smartphone Screens

Smartphones are now an indispensable part of children’s lives. Some children are probably a little addicted to smartphones, looking at the screen at all hours of the day. But kids, let’s put the smartphones down and go outside once in a while.

Today [May 5] is Children’s Day. Due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic three years ago, children were taught to avoid closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings, and for a time they were forced to give up playing together with friends or going far away from home.

During this time, the distance between children and the digital world rapidly shrank. Each elementary and junior high school student in Japan was given a tablet device, and they now have more opportunities to use the internet for learning.

Due in part to people voluntarily refraining from going out, opportunities to use smartphones at home to play games and enjoy videos have also increased. According to a Cabinet Office survey, 36% of junior high school students use the internet for more than five hours a day, as do more than 50% of high school students.

Smartphones are widely used in daily life for such purposes as interacting with friends, communicating with others about club activities and calling family members. Even so, it is undesirable for students to use the devices in such a way that they become absorbed in their smartphones until late at night, causing a lack of sleep.

A survey of about 20,000 elementary, junior high and high school students conducted by Osaka Prefecture and other entities found that after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, there was an increase in the number of children suspected of being dependent on the internet who could not stop using it even if they wanted to.

Regarding the excessive use of smartphones, the same is true of many adults. Under such circumstances, even if adults advise children against excessive smartphone use, their words can ring hollow. One idea is for family members to discuss together how to use smartphones and occasionally make time not to use the devices.

In Hyogo and Kagawa prefectures, “offline camps” are held in which children get away from their smartphones and game consoles and enjoy playing outside. According to the prefectural governments, the camps have had positive effects, such as children becoming less irritable without their smartphones as they interact with people in nature.

It is hoped that children will step back from digital space and actually move their bodies and come into direct contact with nature and culture to enrich their emotional lives. It is important to review the way they are forced to communicate busily with smartphones every day.

Economic conditions may make it difficult for some families to provide their children with a variety of experiences. For the benefit of children who have been deprived of hands-on activities due to the coronavirus pandemic, Fukuoka Prefecture is this fiscal year offering all elementary and junior high school students free admission to 38 public museums and other facilities.

It is hoped that local governments, companies and private organizations will use these examples as a reference and devise ways for children to relax without using smartphones.

If children can learn that there are more interesting things to do than just use their smartphones, their worlds should expand even further.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 5, 2023)