Modern technology has a lot going for it but parents must keep an eye on how long their kids use it and what they use it for.
Yelling, crying and refusing to eat are common responses when they take away their children’s iPads or smartphones, many parents say. Some even exhibit abnormal behavior when separated from their digital device for a few days. A new challenge for parents in these “@ times” is how to help their children enjoy what digital technology has to offer without them becoming too dependent on it or even addicted.
While experts in developed countries recommend parents limit their kids contact with digital devices, nearly 80 per cent of Vietnamese children are allowed to use smartphones and tablets every day, including 20 per cent of kids aged two and 60 per cent of kids aged from three to six.
The figures come from a recent survey on the use of digital devices among Vietnamese children conducted by the Research Center of Culture, Education and Social Life under the Ho Chi Minh City Ethnology and Anthropology Association, involving more than 1,000 parents of 1,800 kids from three to 12 years of age, in four major cities: Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Da Nang and Can Tho.
Kids in the survey spend an average of 30-120 minutes each day on mobile devices, mostly playing games and watching cartoons. On the weekends and holidays, however, time spent with their digital “friend” rises to three or four hours.
While digital devices are the “friend” of children, parents say they’re also a good “baby-sitter”, in explaining why they let their children use them so often. With the pressure of the modern world they acknowledge they don’t have enough time for their children. Ms. Nguyen Thu Ha, a sales executive at a local bank, said she usually gets home from work at 6-7pm. Housework is waiting, as are dinner preparations and clothes washing. She usually gives her smartphone to her three-year-old son to keep him occupied as she goes about her chores.
Similarly, Ms. Phan Dieu Linh not only uses an iPad to baby-sit but also to feed her two-year-old daughter, who is a lazy eater. When she plays games and watches cartoons she eats more readily.
Digital devices can also be good teachers, however. Smartphone and tablets are believed to help kids become “‘smarter” if they know how to use them from an early age. “I’m proud that my son can use my phone even better than I can,” said Ms Ha. “I think it boosts his brain development and creativity.”
Another reason children are fond of modern digital devices is that they are growing up in a time when every household has them are they have become an indispensable part of modern life, according to Dr. Ngo Xuan Diep, Dean of the Psychology Faculty of the University of Social Sciences and the Humanities. Kids easily imitate the habits of their parents.
Although modern devices give busy parents a helping hand, they also have a dangerous side.
After several months of giving her son the “digital baby-sitter”, Ms. Ha began to see it taking over his life. He sits alone “clicking” and ignores his other toys. When she takes the phone away from him he behaves badly - screaming, crying and refusing to eat.
Ms. Linh has also realized the negative effects one day when the power went out and her iPad ran out of battery. Her daughter simply refused to eat. She has also exhibited other worrying signs, like speaking very slowly and only being interested in playing games and watching advertisements and cartoons rather than spending time with her friends.
The cases of Ms. Ha and Ms. Linh’s children are, sadly, not unique. Hospitals and healthcare centers for children have recently reported more little patients with big problems in psychology and growth, with most being in some way associated with using digital devices and watching television for extended periods each day.
Dr. Pham Duc Chuan, psychologist and Vice Director of the Child Psychology Research Center, said that due to a lack of knowledge and awareness about how and how long kids use digital technology, many Vietnamese parents let them come into contact with them too early or play on them too much.
Kids under three need to learn and practice communication skills and physical and social activities, while kids from three to six must combine these skills with other skills such as problem solving and independence. If they have early contact or too much contact with smart devices they will be distracted and won’t have time to practice those skills, which affects their childhood development. “Their brain may develop better but other skills become worse,” Dr. Chuan said. “For example, they can perform tasks on smart devices very quickly but find it hard to hold a pen and write or draw.” Furthermore, using smart devices for long hours can also damage their vision and make them physically inactive.
Dr. Diep said that both adults and children can easily become addicted to smart devices. In an era of digital technology, smart devices can also be important channels for education and entertainment, so there’s no need to completely prohibit children from using them. The amount of time allowed depends on their age and what the devices are being used for.
Both Dr. Diep and Dr. Chuan advise parents not to let kids under two use digital tools and to limit those from two to six to only two hours a day, spread out in 30-minute periods, and to select and monitor the content.
Parents are also encouraged to spend more time with their children, including both helping them to discover and learn skills and playing with them, to show them that there are many more things in life that are more interesting than the virtual world of smart devices, such as swimming, football, going to the park, or discovering delicious food. “Spending time with your kids is important and necessary,” Dr. Diep said. “It not only helps them to develop skills faster but also makes them happy. Smart devices then become not so important. Technology is not dangerous for children if parents know how best to use it.”