The Korea Herald


Concern raised over kids’ use of smartphones

By Korea Herald

Published : Aug. 23, 2012 - 20:39

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Use of digital devices at early age can do kids more harm than good, experts warn

As smartphones and tablet computers become more popular, more parents are using them to babysit their children, with plenty of apps available to entertain infants, toddlers and pre-school kids.

“A smartphone and for-kids apps are a must for our family at restaurants, in the car or often at home,” said Kim Sun-min.

Her 28-month-old daughter is a frantic fan of Pororo, the main character of TV animation series “Pororo the Little Penguin.” 

Whenever she gets bored and starts being difficult, Kim runs an app on her smartphone that streams episodes of the cartoon series and hands it over to her. It keeps her engaged for at least an hour, she said.

Many parents have relied on TVs and computers to entertain their bored children. Now, in the era of mobile digital devices, they are discovering smartphones’ similar ability as a babysitter.

There is no study yet in Korea about smartphone watching by children under the age of 3. But a survey came out last week revealing the trend in the 3-5 year age group.

The Korea Institute of Child Care and Education surveyed 252 parents with children aged 3-5 in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province and found that 15.1 percent let their children play with smartphones every day.

Some 23 percent said their kid use the device 3-6 times a week, while 46 percent said 1-2 times a week.

The largest number of the parents, or 36.1 percent, said they let them use it for less than 10 minutes. Some 30 percent allowed 11-20 minutes of usage time, followed by 21-30 minutes at 21.8 percent.

Eleven percent of the parents let them play for more than 30 minutes, the study found.

Experts, however, warn that excessive exposure to digital devices can do more harm than good to the development of babies and toddlers.

It is basically for the same reason that they warn parents against letting their little ones watch television, DVDs, computer streaming video, or any form of passive, on-screen entertainment.

With flashing lights, scene changes and auditory edits, they are over-stimulating to developing brains and don’t help in developing their cognitive skills and attentional capacity, they say.

Also, TVs and smartphones can replace other, more important and appropriate activities like playing and interacting with parents, they warn.

“Excessive smartphone viewing in infancy can lead to the under-development in the right brain,” said Kim Dae-jin, a psychiatrist at Yeouido St. Mary’s Hospital in Seoul.

“It’s best to delay introducing our kids to smartphones as long as possible. But if kids show an obsession with smartphones, try to engage them with physical activities.”

Ahn Dong-hyun, professor of psychiatry at Hanyang University, warns that children who have been playing with digital devices at early ages may have a greater risk of developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, or addition to Internet or online games.

“Children with risk factors of ADHD have a strong tendency for novelty-seeking, and smartphones, tablet PCs and other media with strong levels of stimulation can reinforce that,” he said.

By Lee Sun-young (