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[Comments on the Survey Report on Media Use by Children and Parents] Children Growing Up, Parenting and the New Media


Today, we are witnessing the remarkable development of new media tools in the areas of information processing, transmission and communication. If you take the train in the city, you will see that many people use smartphones to read emails, play games, or watch videos, unless they are chatting or dozing off in their seats. One day, I counted the number of people using a smartphone on the train, and surprisingly found that nearly half of them were using one.

The results of the survey also confirm this trend. More mothers use a smartphone instead of a mobile phone, and this trend is more obvious in younger generations. In the survey, over 80% of mothers in their 20s and under have a smartphone, far exceeding 47% of mothers in their 40s and above. In contrast, only 26% of mothers in their 20s and under have a mobile phone, while 56% of those in their 40s and above do. One out of four young mothers has a mobile phone while more than three out of four have a smartphone. Younger generations seem to have a greater affinity for smartphones, which enables us to foresee that a time will come when they reach their 30s or 40s and more than 80% of all generations own a smartphone. Of course, we cannot predict the evolution of media in 20 years or 30 years, when there may be completely different types of media tools that are more popular than the smartphone.

Nevertheless, these figures indicate that the year 2013 can be considered as the "year of smartphone diffusion" along with the rapid diversification of media tools. When looking at the user percentage of PCs, 78% of mothers in their 40s and above use a PC, while less than 61% of mothers in their 20s and below do so. This fact indicates that the number of young generations who rely on PCs is unexpectedly decreasing. It seems that the transition from PCs to smartphones has actually started already.

Why do people prefer smartphones so much? I would like to give this a thought and also consider tablets that have features similar to smartphones. In short, it is probably because smartphones have the functions of game devices and PCs on top of the high-spec functions of telephones, cameras, digital videos, and emails. With a smartphone, we can search a location using a map application, check train schedules, find a good restaurant by typing in keywords, and share information with others by sending photos and videos on an almost real-time basis. We can also read digital books or even the news with our smartphone when we don't have it on paper at hand. There is even a kind of smartphone that answers your verbal questions by words, graphics and photos. It is as if we are constantly carrying "an almighty information tank." There are countless numbers of applications which enable us to utilize our smartphone as a tool for communication, information transmission, music data storing, gaming, education, etc. It is a compact device with unlimited potential as information media. These are the reasons why smartphones are being pushed into the mainstream. Even Nintendo is now obliged to shift their corporate strategy away from a focus on large-size gaming machines. I believe that, in the coming years, smartphones will gain enormous popularity as a tool of diverse communication and information collection, gaming and learning.

Since parents, in particular mothers, are heavy users of smartphones, it can be said that children are now living in an environment of smartphones on top of TVs and videos. It was more than ten years ago that PCs emerged in the daily lives of families. However, PCs were not easy for young children to operate, that is, their interface was not structured well enough for PCs to become an everyday tool and part of the scenery for children at home. However, the story seems to be a bit different with smartphones. They even fit in children's palms, are easy to use with just a single finger and are durable. Taking advantage of these features, companies are developing applications for young children. In sum, the new findings from this survey reveal that if a mother uses a smartphone or tablet in her daily life, the child tends to imitate her behavior and starts to use a smartphone or tablet daily.

When a new media tool appears, as is always the case, people tend to talk about the negative effects on children. Therefore, one of the survey items I was curious about was how the young mothers perceive this when they let their children use smartphones or tablets, the new media tools.

For detailed results and analysis of the survey, please refer to the following content in the provided chapters, but here I will provide a summarized analysis.

Regarding the influence of watching TV and videos, results showed how children watched them almost daily, but with caution so that children would not spend excessive time watching them. At the same time, the results also showed how parents are trying to ensure that the children have a well-balanced lifestyle by letting them play outdoors or with toys, reading picture books aloud to them, etc. This tendency is partly due to changes to the lifestyle of parents who are bringing up young children, and partly due to social pressure such as criticism and advice from the pediatric association and other experts in child rearing and education about the negative effects on young children who spend long hours watching TV and videos.

Regarding the use of smartphones and tablets, the survey results also show to some extent that parents of all generations surveyed are worried about adverse effects, such as potential eye damage, game addiction, etc. in the same way as TV and video games. However, when limited to mothers who use a smartphone or tablet daily, the results revealed that about 20% of children start to play and learn with a smartphone on a daily basis at the age of one or two years old, partly owing to the fact that there are no restrictions on children using a smartphone. Some may find this result as higher than expected, but many young mothers who regularly use a smartphone would think it is a matter of course. As I have discussed above, negative opinions on the use of new media by children may arise in the future. However, to be precise, it is necessary to conduct more surveys, for example, to investigate the difference between children who have a well-balanced lifestyle and use smartphones and those who do not and use smartphones, and between those who have healthy communication with their parents and use a smartphone daily and those who lack communication with their parents and actively use a smartphone. It is then that I hope to hear responsible opinions.

In the era of smartphones and tablets, it is likely that new concepts of media literacy education will receive increasing attention. People are gradually understanding the importance of media literacy education, and some schools have already started working on it, although they have not been directed toward smartphones and tablets. Media literacy education is important for young children as well, but is difficult at the moment to provide such education for them in the same manner as for primary and secondary school students. I believe that it is time to start seriously considering putting into effect media literacy education for parents as part of child rearing support.

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