"If rapid measures aren't taken, we may be in for serious problems," frets Ryuta Kawashima, professor at the Institute of Development, Aging and Cancer at Tohoku University. "It's no exaggeration to say that kids today are being controlled by smartphones, and becoming enslaved by them."
Writing in Shukan Shincho (Nov 5), Shin Shiraishi has assembled a gathering storm of evidence to show that use of smartphones is not conducive to the development of young minds.
Children have become so dependent on their mobile devices for communicating that Masashi Yasukawa, director of the Web Counseling Association, believes that if things are allowed to continue as is, "the day will come when, as adults, they'll attend a class reunion, and nobody will talk to anyone."
That's if they manage to graduate, because smartphone use -- by cutting into both their daily activities and sleep time -- is having a major impact on academic performance.
In August 2013, tests given by a research group at Rikkyo University found major discrepancies in test performance. The longer the time spent using smartphones, the lower the scores. In another survey of middle school student usage of the Internet, email and SNS by the Yokohama City board of education found, after cross tabulation was conducted, that students who said they use their smartphone for less than 30 minutes per day averaged a score of 60.7%, while students who said they use their smartphones for four or more hours a day had a considerably lower average score of 43.6%.
In a joint project undertaken by Tohoku University and the Sendai board of education, data was collected from some 17,000 students at 124 primary schools and 25,000 students at 63 middle schools.
"We were shocked to see that the study concluded that longer usage of smart phones or cell phones caused grades to decline, irrespective of the amount of time devoted to study," Prof Kawashima was quoted as saying.
When students from the same classes were compared, those who utilized their cell phones for one hour or less per day scored an average of over 65 points on a test. Those who used their smartphones for four hours or more per day scored less than 55 points.
Among students who studied more than two hours per day, but who used their smartphones less than one hour per day, the scores averaged over 70 points. But among students who studied for the same duration, but who used their cell phones two to three hours per day, the averages score was more than 10 points lower. Moreover the same trend was apparent whatever the subject -- Japanese language, science, social science or English.
Based on laboratory experiments with monkeys and mice, Kawashima won't rule out the possibility that the lower academic performance may be organic -- indicative of the smartphones' effects on their users' brains.
"There was once a time when even I myself was hooked on computer games, like 'The Ambition of Nobunaga,' so I can understand how kids get so attached to their smartphones," recalls Toshimasa Ota, a journalist who specializes in child rearing and education. "But I had to stop and ask myself, 'What the hell am I doing?'
"So for my kids, I have set some rules, like using filtering on the web browser. And also they have to tell me before I let them buy applications. What's more, I obliged them to promise that they'd leave the phones to recharge in the living room, and not take them into their own rooms."
"Even then, I think parents should give some thought to whether or not their kids really need a smartphone," says Tohoku University's Kawashima. "When I had a chance to meet children in Miyagi Prefecture, I asked the about whether they felt a smartphone was a necessity," said Kawashima. "After the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, many areas had no cell phone coverage for about one month. At that time compared with now, not that many families and friends were able to communicate using the LINE application.
"When I asked children about this though, in so many words, they said things didn't happen that way. It's more like they've just become so used to communications by sending each other text or pictures via their smartphones, they feel it's a necessity for their daily lives.
"But maybe now's the time to reconsider whether smartphones are really a necessity or not."© Japan Today