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Use of smartphones wasting more kids' time, wrecking their brains, says doctor

16 Comments

"Of course information technology (IT) is important. But at the same time there are negative aspects and it's important to strike a balance."

Writing in Shukan Shincho (Oct 29) Dr Susumu Higuchi notes that the education ministry last summer issued an advisory that junior high school students would be permitted to carry their smartphones to school.

Higuchi, who heads the Kurihama Medical and Addiction Center in Kanagawa Prefecture, concedes that their having a phone is helpful for parents to know their children's whereabouts. But he's got a problem with the ministry's action because the potential demerits of phone use were not touched upon.

Children's addiction to the internet has been a growing problem, with implications for their physical health and social behavior. For those severely affected, a natural return is unlikely, making some form of intervention necessary.

In 2011 Higuchi's facility, located in Yokosuka City, became the first of its kind in Japan to treat internet dependence on an outpatient basis.

Although originally established to treat people for alcoholism, about 1,500 patients a year receive treatment for internet addition, making it the largest facility of its kind in the country.

The center was moved to begin treating internet addiction after a survey by the health ministry in 2008 estimated that Japan had  some 2.75 million addicts -- roughly equivalent to the population of Osaka.

Most surprising, Higuchi writes, is that about 70% of patients were minors, with half in middle and high school and the remaining half in primary school -- with a few as young as 2nd grade.

Many of the minors used their smartphones to play online games late into the night, virtually reversing their nights and days. In many cases, medical intervention was requested by parents after their child flew into a rage after confiscating the phone or attempting to limit its use. Some children used their parents' credit card to order games or pay for updates. In one extreme case, in six months the charges came to 2 million yen.

A 2017 survey by the health ministry found that smartphone dependence been growing, with 12.5% of middle school and 16.0% of high school students found to be addicted -- a 1.8-fold increase over the survey of five years earlier. Those suffering from addition might show symptoms of sleep deprivation, insecurity and falling grades at school. Lack of physical activity can even lead to a decrease in bone density.

Research of addicted gamers indicates that functioning in the brain's  frontal lobe -- the section responsible for controlling reason and logic -- will decline. Such young people have been found to have a lower than average volume of gray matter in their frontal lobes than other children of the same age. Numerous studies have showed this condition can impact on the limbic system, which controls desire and emotions, and makes it more difficult for such children to be dealt with using normal disciplinary measures at home or in school.

At the camp conducted at Higuchi's facility, children who go for counseling spend 8 nights and 9 days completely disengaged from the internet, climbing the local hills, fishing or looking at the stars at night. Admission to the hospital -- reserved for patients believed to most susceptible to a relapse into their former habits -- generally lasts for two months.

Ultimately, writes Higuchi, it's important to be proactive. In South Korea, for example, children under 16 are banned from online games between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. Minors are also banned from entering net cafes during the hours’ from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The sheer growth in numbers makes the situation analogous to trying to holding back a bursting dike. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications found that compared to ownership by 20.5% in the six to 12 year age group in 2014, the figure had nearly doubled to 37.2% by 2019. And about 80% of middle and high school students owned smartphones, which they utilized online an average of 250 minutes (over 4 hours) per day.

Dr Higuchi is concerned that the dropping of restrictions on carrying smartphones to school may result in more addiction. If the ministry won't lay down the law, can the schools, at least, be enlisted to restrict the kids' use?

"If more kids have phones, I worry cases of dependence can only get worse. It worries me," Higuchi concludes.

© Japan Today

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

16 Comments
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It ‘s 2020. I don’t think you need to be a doctor to know this.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Really holding off on getting my child a mobile phone. I guess he will have to have one at some point but they can be gigantic time wasters.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Not ready to weigh in on the debate as it relates to children. However, I know a senior citizen with dementia in her family tree. She got a mobile phone. She spends hours every day reading the news, engaging on Facebook, watching videos, listening to audio books. IMO, it helps her to keep her mind busy, which is a good thing.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Research of addicted gamers indicates that functioning in the brain's frontal lobe -- the section responsible for controlling reason and logic -- will decline. Such young people have been found to have a lower than average volume of gray matter in their frontal lobes than other children of the same age.

The first sentence is the conclusion, the second sentence is the purported basis for the conclusion. Let me suggest that correlation is not causation and the possibility that the youngsters who started out having lower than average volume of grey matter were more vulnerable to addiction, not that the addiction somehow causes grey matter to decrease.

At least based on the information in the article.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

How many parents give their kids smartphones and / or tablets just to keep the kids busy and free the patents for whatever reason, good or bad. They grow up with the addiction. Thank all the great game makers, twinkles in technology, bank & soft power eyes. The price? Addiction, game or Internet addiction. It’s not over. I predict a few more lost generations before we get a handle on things.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Smart phones....5G is going to be worse in my opinion for the children.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

the keitai zombie generation - sad

4 ( +4 / -0 )

with 12.5% of middle school and 16.0% of high school students found to be addicted

Not bad. Adult addiction must be over 50%.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I am addicted but I also have severe mobility problems and I'm approaching the age of eighty. The internet allows me to keep up with and interact with the outside world. The quality of my life would be drastically downgraded without electronic assistance.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

I see kids and young adults look for their electronic assistants as a first problem solving tool, rather than applying knowledge, cognitive thinking or logic. That is very worrying because it stops them even more to think for themselves which already is not the biggest Japanese talent.

But teachers also prefer the students to be allowed the use of their mobiles and other Electronic aids. Easier for them, and one of the main reasons they want to allow them.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I see kids and young adults look for their electronic assistants as a first problem solving tool, rather than applying knowledge, cognitive thinking or logic.

I'm an old adult who knows the conversion formula, subtract 32 and times by 5/9, but its quicker to simply ask Google what 425F is in C when putting something in the oven. In this situation, I do not see how applying "knowledge" would achieve anything more. I don't think it is doing so in actuality, but the Internet has great potential to free us from memorizing lots of things and instead use our minds in deeper ways.

I don't employ anyone, but I don't know which I would prefer, someone who knows lots or someone who knows how to find things out quickly. I think it would be the latter.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

This problem of internet addiction via smartphone and laptop has been widely discussed in a number of countries in the past several years. Somehow, more kids and teenagers are glued more often to the ever advancing gadgets, causing lots of negative psychological impacts on and the general well-beings of many young people. Seemingly, no concrete or any orchestrated effort to reduce the bad effects anywhere as yet. Wonder why..

1 ( +1 / -0 )

A growing number of service companies and ebusinesses presume that I have a mobile phone, and require the number to be entered as a part of the registration process. This makes it impossible for me to deal with them, because I don't have one, and refuse to get one. This is very frustrating. It seems not only my patronage, but my very existence is being marginalized due to my non-ownership of an object I loathe.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I don’t agree, as those smart phones only amplifies what those children would do if there were no ones. You can play all the time, play and learn in a balanced way or only learn or stick to something semi-professional. That works the same without any phone. Therefore, all those children can play with it or they can also learn everything about robotics or artificial intelligence etc. In fact, it depends on their genes and social surroundings. As said, the phones or tablets are only the amplifiers.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

kohakuebisu, yes it is easier, but if the internet or your phone network were down you would still be able (albeit slower) to make the conversion, which is the point. You need to understand the underlying principles not just blindly accept what you are told by a machine. I know intelligent and apparently well educated people who are so used to using electronic devices be it calculator or phone that when it gives the wrong answer due to fault or fat finger syndrome, they accept what to me is patently wrong because I can do the calculations underlying it.

If parents are so paranoid they have to be able to contact their little darlings at all times, then give them a basic phone not a smart phone and they won’t be able to become addicted. I agree with those schools which are starting to require all phones are haded in at the beginning of the day and can be collected as the pupils leave.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Use of smartphones wasting more kids' time, wrecking their brains, says doctor

It ain't just the kiddos doc!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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