Illustration by Trịnh Lập
By Đỗ Hữu
When Phạm Thu Hương is busy working or cooking, she often gives her smartphone to her five-year-old son. It keeps him quiet because he can listen to music and look at pictures.
Hương, 33, is aware of the risk of children becoming addicted to smartphones, but she says her son doesn’t use it too much.
“I think he uses the smartphone for less than two hours a day, just for dinner and while I am busy,” says Hương.
“It’s not easy to get him to eat, but with the smartphone, he quickly finishes his meals. If I don’t give him the phone, he often cries and refuses to eat,” she says.
“He’s very naughty and cocky, and when I need to focus on my laptop, I have to use the phone to keep him quiet.”
Hương is not the only mother in a big city who is busy with housework, office work and childcare.
When he started preparing for primary school, she quickly realised that he was blinking a lot and couldn't see clearly.
Hương took him to a doctor who confirmed he was short-sighted. No words can describe how much Hương regrets allowing her son to use the phone.
Dr Trần Quốc Khánh from the Việt Nam-Germany Friendship Hospital has made a list of 14 problems that can occur among children who use smartphones from an early age. The most dangerous effect is long-term damage to their eyes.
“A tic is the most common problem because the children’s eyes are easily damaged if they focus on the screen for a long time,” he says.
“Some researches show that using smartphones may increase the risk of obesity, memory loss, being hump-backed, neck pain and osteoporosis because children who overuse smartphones often sit for too long and don’t go out to exercise in natural light or play with other children.”
Some other risks include infertility, sleeping disorders and autism, and even suicide comes into the equation.
“Scientists have found new diseases and syndromes in the era of Industry 4.0, including Nomophobia (a fear of being out of cellular phone contact), Text Neck (injury and pain in the neck resulting from excessive smartphone use) and Texting Thumb Syndrome,” Dr Khánh says.
He said infants aged 0-2 shouldn’t be allowed near electronic devices, and toddlers aged 3-5 shouldn’t use smartphones for more than one hour a day.
Dr Nguyễn Thị Thu Hà from the National Children’s Hospital has recommended that parents should limit their smartphone use at home to set an example for their children.
“I know many parents who keep scrolling down their newsfeeds on Facebook during the evening while their children play alone or watch television,” she says.
“If you really need to use a phone when you're playing with your kids, you should tell them that you need 15-20 minutes, then stop immediately, to spend time together.”
Phạm Hiền Trang, a mother of two boys in Hà Nội, chooses a smart way to let her children use smart devices.
"It’s difficult to completely ban children from using electronic devices in this era," she says.
“I limit the time they can spend on their phones and watching TV. If they are good, they can watch cartoons for half an hour. It’s a kind of reward.
“Internet and modern technology provide information, studying methods and a source of leisure for my kids, so I decided to monitor their use of electronic devices in a positive and effective way. Learning English is an example.
“When they get to five years old, they'll be allowed to use them as they want.” VNS