Compared to previous generations, today’s kids are growing up in a world where mobile devices and the Internet have always existed. They would not know a time when cellular phones were these clunky gadgets that can only do calls, maybe text, and hardly anything else. The smartphones that they know give them the ability to call, text, send emails, play games, take high quality photos and videos, as well as interact with friends on social media. Oh, and don’t forget they have tablets, too! 

Today’s constantly connected generation is using mobile devices more and more. According to the 2021 We Are Social report, 5.22 billion people use a mobile phone, which translates to 66.6% of the world’s total population. Unique mobile users have increased by 1.8% of 93 million since January 2020. And 98.8% of users access their social media accounts via mobile devices, so it’s no surprise that these gadgets have indeed become a staple in the everyday life of many. 

Social media apps are designed to keep the users scrolling and refreshing so they will continue using the app. The longer they stay and the more times they open the app, the better it is for these app makers. Singaporeans, on average, spend 2 hours and 17 minutes a day on social media, a little below the worldwide average of 2 hours and 25 minutes daily, based on the We Are Social report.  

Apps makers use carefully studied techniques, such as push notifications, in order to lure in users and keep them coming back for more. In the We Are Social report, people around the world spend an average of 4 hours and 10 minutes each day on mobile apps, with 44% of that time spent on social and communications apps, 26% on video and entertainment apps, and 9% on mobile games. The remaining 21% of the time is used on other kinds of apps.  

And it does not help that many parents also have hectic schedules, even if they work from home, that it is difficult to monitor the child’s every activity. Some children are left to entertain themselves with these highly engaging gadgets. 

Signs of Addiction

Given the prevalence of mobile devices in the hands and homes of school age children in Singapore, it is important as parents to identify the signs of addiction before they get out of hand.

What does it mean to be addicted? A person may use a substance or engage in a particular behaviour because of the pleasure or reward he or she derives from it, despite the detrimental effects. Apps and interfaces are designed to be alluring, and for the impressionable minds of children, it may be difficult to turn their attention to something else. By themselves, they might not be able to regulate their use of such devices. 

 As parents, it’s crucial to be mindful of the ways that children are using mobile devices. Here are some of the red flags to look out for in your child:

  1. Persistent use of the device, which can often lead to social withdrawal. You often see your child with the smartphone or tablet by their side. 
  2. Frequent requests to use the device, and when the child is not granted permission, he or she becomes angry, irritable, or may even throw a tantrum. 
  3. Restlessness or impatience when unable to use the device. Your child may also be unable to focus on more important activities, such as schoolwork.  
  4. The child rarely looks up from the mobile device and has disengaged from activities he or she used to enjoy doing. 
  5. Physical manifestations, such as eyestrain, headache, neck pain, or sleep disturbances. 

Preventing Addiction to Mobile Devices 

Despite their addictive quality, mobile devices can be productive tools for learning and connecting socially, especially during a time when face-to-face meetings are limited. It will be almost impossible to ban its use altogether. But here are some ways that parents can avoid the potential risks:  

  1. Limit the time they use mobile devices, as well as television and computers. For instance, agree on a fixed interval of, say, 20 to 30 minutes per session. Explain to your child the rules surrounding the use of mobile devices. Make them feel that they are part of the decision-making process because this will help them abide by the rules they helped create. 
  2. Establish mobile device-free periods in a day—for example, during meals, when doing schoolwork, when conversing with the family, or just before bedtime. You may also want to create device-free spaces, such as the bedroom, dining table, and study area. 
  3. Find time for physical play and social interaction. It’s important for children to remain active and be involved in play to support their physical, cognitive, and social development. Encourage them to go outside, and if that is not possible, play boardgames, do puzzles, or have an arts and crafts session with them.
  4. Don’t let your child sleep with mobile devices in the room. When it’s time for bed, don’t let your child have access to smartphones or tablets because it will activate their nervous system and keep them up.  
  5. If your child is old enough to be on social media, watch out for signs of cyberbullying and other negative, and potentially dangerous, interactions. Encourage open communication with your child about his or her online activities and be aware if there are any changes in behaviour. 
  6. Be a role model. If the child sees the parent enjoying activities and interacting with people instead of being glued to their phone, they will learn that there’s more to life than the digital realm. 

Conclusion

There is no denying that smartphones and other mobile devices are already a part of a child’s social landscape. Being tech-savvy at a young age can be a useful skill for children, especially as we move further into the digital age. However, bear in mind that while the benefits are great, exposure to technology, through the use of mobile devices, can impact the mental and emotional health of children, and it is up to us, as parents, to find the right balance. 

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References: 

We Are Social report: https://wearesocial.com/blog/2021/01/digital-2021-the-latest-insights-into-the-state-of-digital

https://www.healthxchange.sg/children/parenting-tips/tips-prevent-tech-addiction-children

https://www.psychologytoday.com/sg/blog/suffer-the-children/201803/is-your-child-addicted-mobile-devices

https://www.parents.com/kids/teens/phone-addiction-signs-and-risks/