Saudi Gazette – A number of sociologists working for social and charity centers have called on parents not to let their children spend too much time on smartphones and tablets. The result of excessive use of these devices, they argue, can be detrimental to a child’s health and behavior.

Speaking to Al-Yaum daily, the experts cite studies that show excessive use of these devices can lead to a type of addiction and obsession in children.

Dr. Ahmad Albo’ali, executive director of Jalawi Abdulaziz Musaad Center for Child Development, said everyone agrees that smartphones play a pivotal role in people’s lives today. What experts don’t agree on is whether smartphones should play an equally important role in the lives of children.

“Many of our kids have isolated themselves from society because they love to spend a long time watching Mickey Mouse, Tom and Jerry and other cartoons on their iPad. This is not right; children should be pushed to exercise in the open air instead of sitting glued to their tablets to watch superficial cartoons that teach them nothing. Parents should understand that spending too much time on these devices have various consequences on a child’s life,” he explained.

According to Dr. Albo’ali, in its most-recent survey on the use of smartphones and tablets among people between the ages of 8 and 18 in Japan, Egypt, India, Chile and Paraguay, Japanese NTT DoCoMo Company showed that 70 percent of children use such devices at a rate higher than that of their parents.

It also showed that 40 percent of the sample of study logs on the Internet from their smartphones at least once a day. About 73 percent of them spend a significant amount of time on social media websites.

Many studies stress the importance of the imaginative thinking stage for 5-year-olds, noting that excessive use of modern devices such as smartphones may weaken the imaginative thinking ability in children. Furthermore, such devices can make children lazy and weaken concentration skills, especially for boys between 8 and 12.

Some studies on the number of hours children spend on their tablets and smartphones have showed that 28 percent of children spend more than five hours a day on these devices, 18.6 percent of children spend 3-4 hours, 19.3 percent spend 2-3 hours, 26 percent spend 1-2 hours and 8 percent spend an hour. “These results are indicative of a clear absence of any parental monitoring,” said Dr. Albo’ali.

Focus on the pros

Monirah Al-Madhi, director of the women’s division at the Office for Expatriate Community Awareness and Guidance, said parents shouldn’t underestimate the power of these devices in changing a child’s behavior or affecting his mental abilities.

“They may be small devices but they can take you all over the world and show you good and bad things. It has pros and cons. Parents should focus on the pros,” Al-Madhi said.

“School counselors also have a responsibility toward children and should inform a child’s parents if they see any change in their behavior that can be attributed to the excessive use of such devices,” she added.

Hawazin Al-Zahrani, an educational counselor and a children’s rights activist, said in order to counter the bad things children may come across, parental supervision is key.

“A child may come across porn site advertisements while browsing the Internet. I personally call these devices a time bomb that can go off any minute in the absence of any parental control,” Al-Zahrani said.

She called on the Ministry of Education to incorporate educational material for children in this regard in school curricula. She also said parents should play a more active role in their children’s lives.

“Some children fall victim to sexual or verbal abuse on social media websites and their parents do not have a clue about it because they are not close enough to their children. Some studies have shown that an absence of parental monitoring can be blamed for the abuse against 80 percent of children. Parents should dedicate more time to their children and keep a close eye on them so their children do not fall prey to the predators out there,” she added.

Predators

According to Al-Zahrani, many online games targeting children promote violent and extremist ideas. Predators on the other hand take advantage of a child’s innocence so they can sexually abuse them.

“Children can protect themselves from predators if trained and educated well about bad and good conduct and what they should do if their safety is at risk. Parents should explain to their children the sensitive areas that no one is allowed to touch and that they should scream, run away and inform them if someone tries to touch them inappropriately. Parents, on the other hand, should report such abuse to the authorities even if such a report will put the family reputation on the line,” she noted.

“Unfortunately, some parents try to hush such issues up for fear of damaging their reputation. An abused child needs psychological and social help and it is wrong to silence him and tell him to forget the matter as if it never happened.”

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