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Are our kids getting a digital overdose?

Update: November, 23/2014 - 22:48

by Trung Hieu

Nguyen Thi Khanh, a businesswoman in Ha Noi, revealed that many modern mothers today use their tablet devices as babysitters or nannies.

"My son now studies in 1st class. I allow him to use my iPad for only 30 minutes a week on Saturdays. My elder daughter is a junior secondary student, but I allow her to use my iPad for only 60 minutes a week," Khanh said.

She observed that whenever she was sitting at a coffee shop, she would often see parents give their children their iPad, thus making the device a babysitter or nanny for parents seeking more free time for other pursuits.

Figures from a social survey conducted for the first time in Viet Nam, on children using digital devices such as tablets and smart phones, have become a cause for concern.

The survey by the Research Centre for Culture, Education and Social Life, entitled "Situation regarding the use of smart devices among Vietnamese children and parental awareness", showed that up to 59 per cent of children aged three to five and 20 per cent of children aged six to nine have been using tablets, smart phones and other digital devices.

The survey also showed that many children are allowed to use digital equipment before they reach the age of three. These children often use the equipment for 30 to 60 minutes per day and on weekends or holidays, for even longer periods of time.

Many parents admit that they use the devices as babysitters or nannies whenever they don't have time to play or talk with their children.

Nguyen Thi Hanh, a Hanoian resident, admitted knowing that allowing children to use electronic devices could be harmful, but sometimes she found it necessary to give in to her children's demands.

"My eldest son watches TV four hours a day," Hanh revealed. "After watching, he turns on my mobile phone and is even better at using it than me!"

"My second son used to play with my smart phone and laptop all day, but nowadays I limit my children from using them and only allow them to play crossword puzzles, listen to children's music and play a few games," she added.

But Hanh admitted that she didn't always have time for each of her children. "Sometimes I have to give these devices to the children," she said.

"For example, when I need to coax the second child to go to bed, I have to allow the elder child to play with my mobile phone," added Hanh.

"Sometimes I have to go out but don't want the children to follow me or vandalise anything. There are no other games that can make them stay put in one place except those found on these devices."

Asked about allowing children to use digital equipment, many parents agree that these are useful learning tools that give children access to new information and knowledge and help them develop language skills.

But the devices also reduce children's time for formal learning and for communicating with parents and relatives. They also reduce children's analytical ability and imagination since the devices do the analysis and imagining for them.

Although parents acknowledge that children's use of digital devices yields some positive results, the negative tends to outweigh the positive.

As many as 75 per cent of parents worry that the devices may make children addicts while 85 per cent worry that they may cause eye diseases and 73 per cent, that they may make the children lazy.

Nguyen Thi Hao, vice head of the Education Faculty of the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, noted that one of the difficulties that parents of young families in Viet Nam were experiencing today revolved around achieving balance in time spent for work, family and social relationships and parenting.

"They usually have very few children, about one or two, so they provide the best possible conditions for them but saddle them with all kinds of expectations. Granting children access to digital devices is a way of showing this," explained Hao.

"However, not every parent cares for and fully understands how these devices can positively impact on the development of their children's spirit and wisdom," she said.

"Therefore, in most cases, allowing children to use these devices does not bring positive results or enable the children to live up to their parents' expectations. So, a lot of parents feel helpless when they have to declare that their children must detoxify from the use of these devices."

Dr Tran Phuong Thu, an eye specialist, observed that 95 out of 100 children with myopia were using electronic devices often.

"In the past 10 years, myopia and other similar eye problems of school-age children have increased to alarming levels. Among the 100 cases that I have examined, about 95 cases were related to the use of electronic devices such as TV and computers. In the last few years, they use mobile phones, tablets and other digital devices," the doctor said.

Thu also expressed serious doubts about the feasibility of the idea of some schools to compel children, especially those aged less than 12 years, to learn and study using smart electronic boards.

"Being a clinician, I see the reality that children who look too much and too often at digital device monitors soon become short-sighted," Dr Thu said. "As for young children, they need outdoor physical activities, as close to the natural environment as possible, to stay healthy."

Nguyen Thanh Mai, a mother living in Ha Noi, expressed the opinion that not all parents understood their children.

"When our generation was growing up, TV already existed," Mai said.

"Similarly, when the children were born today, digital devices like smart phones and iPads were already present, even in the world of our children. They see their parents, older brothers and sisters use these devices, and people around them also use them. It's hard to force the kids to stand outside the persuasive presence of technology."

"But the wisdom of parents in allowing children to use hi-tech devices makes the big difference between the smart and not so smart children," she said. — VNS

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