‘Teach smartphone use at early age’

With some countries trying to restrict smartphone use by children amid a world body’s push to ban its use in classrooms, experts and parents say such a move may not be practical in Malaysia. - FAIHAN GHANI/The Star

Expert: Cultivating willpower a better way to handle socialisation

PETALING JAYA: It may be easy to pass a law forbidding the use of mobile phones among children, but it is not easy to enforce it, says a child expert.

Early Childhood Care and Education Council’s founding president Datuk Dr Chiam Heng Keng said empowering children from a young age about socialisation and smartphone usage for learning and communication would be more apt.

“The use of smartphones among young children and teenagers in Malaysia is very extensive.

“A survey in four Asean countries, including Malaysia, by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) four years ago showed that even young children and teenagers in rural areas own a smartphone,” she said in an interview.

The social psychologist said the increasing use of smartphones is a “double-edged sword” for children’s physical and mental health.

“Instead of participating in games or outdoor activities, children are glued to the gadgets.

“This social isolation also affects them socially and emotionally. Eye strain, resulting in poor eyesight, and obesity are among the consequences.

“Yet we cannot deny that the Internet provides information including harmful content,” she said.

Chiam said smartphone usage by parents was another factor as children might be resentful of being denied their source of entertainment and communication.“Restricted use is also difficult to monitor.

“So training the child at a very young age to have the willpower and wisdom to use the smartphone to communicate and get information without depriving them of physical activities and socialisation is the most appropriate way,” she said.

Currently, handphones are not allowed during classes, but the practice tends to differ from school to school.

Some schools allow it, as students need to contact their parents for after-school activities. Private schools have their own set of rules.

Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia (PAGE) chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim (pic) said if teachers could teach using smart devices to engage with students, then there would be no need for smartphones in classrooms.

“We have been advocating the use of smartphones as a learning tool in classrooms,” she said.

Alternatively, she said learning could be done offline if there is a health threat from the increased screen time or radiation exposure from smart devices.

Unesco has been pushing for classrooms worldwide to ban smartphone use, saying that the devices distract students from learning, are bad for their mental health and wellbeing, and come with a host of privacy concerns for young people’s data.

The recommendations come from the 2023 Global Education Monitoring Report published on July 26, which analysed global policies on technology use in classrooms and studies about how screens and social media impact young people.

China is mulling restricting mobile phone use for those below 18 as the country takes aim at Internet addiction and tries to cultivate “good morality and socialist values” among minors.

Its Internet regulator, the Cyberspace Administration of China, proposed that all mobile devices, apps and app stores have a built-in “minor mode” that would restrict daily screen time to a maximum of two hours a day, depending on the age group.

When contacted, a single mother, who only wanted to be known as Kak Su, said she has tried many methods to prevent her three children, aged nine, 12 and 16, from having too much screen time.

“I tend to overlook it when I’m busy at work. But using parental control software and reminders somewhat helped,” said the 44-year-old entrepreneur from Shah Alam.

Su said she also reminds her kids why controlled screen time is necessary, engaging them directly to be responsible for their well-being.

“My eldest son used to be addicted to online games on his smartphone two years ago. When advising and scolding did not work, I gave him a final ultimatum,” she said.

Su said at first she allowed him to play games all day, but he would have to prepare his own meals, do his own chores, and attend online classes.

“He had so much fun the first week. Later, he started getting restless and short-tempered.

“That was when I stopped him and took his phone away,” she said.

Su said she then showed her son the videos in which she secretly filmed his bad behaviour.

“That was where I taught him about self-discipline and balance.

“He understood how he lost control and has not gone overboard with his smartphone since,” she added.

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Tech , smartphones , screen time , children , ban , Unesco , law


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