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[Comments on the Survey Report on Media Use by Children and Parents] From the Perspective of Children's Development and their Interaction with Parents

1. The Emergence of a New Media as Viewed from the Cognitive Development of Children

After reading the survey report, I was surprised by the fact that the degree of penetration of new media such as smartphones and tablets has rapidly expanded among families with young children over the past few years. Obviously, this has meant that the rate of exposure of young children to these tools has also grown at an unexpected pace. As shown in Chapter 1, Section 2 of the survey report, over 10% of the children aged between six months and one year-old, 36.3% of the children aged one, and 47.6%, which is almost half, of the children aged two had used a smartphone more frequently than "very rarely," meaning they have had at least some experience using it. Among children aged two, whose mothers own a smartphone, 22.1%, which is almost one in four, use a smartphone "almost every day."

Tools in general, including media tools, have been invented and developed as extensions of our senses and motor functions. Smartphones and tablets are much lighter and smaller than TV and video/DVD devices, fitting even in the little palms of young children. Because of this extremely physical coziness, children tend to feel as if the smartphone or tablet is a part of their body that they can control as they wish like a toy. This is probably why smartphones and tablets have become such a close partner for children, in a different way from conventional media tools. In addition, young children are deeply interested when their actions toward the external world produce feedback. Unlike one-sided TV programs, videos, and DVDs, touch panel-type media tools smoothly demonstrate interactive exchange between the finger touch and an astounding amount of information in the form of digital contents. Depending on the contents, it is quite possible for even an infant aged between six months and 12 months to concentrate and learn from them, through these tools under appropriate adult guidance.

Smartphones and tablets have major potential as cognitive learning tools, and various research studies will be conducted to identify their effective use. On the other hand, there are concerns over the adverse effects of long hours of use, excessive dependence or addiction, etc. due to their easy interface, close physical distance and attractive contents already rife among the young and adults alike. Our major research issue is to identify any possible impact on the development of children arising from the use of smartphones or tablets from the earliest stage of their lives, and to find ways to enhance any advantages and minimize disadvantages.

2. Notes to the Creators of Media Devices and Contents

The smartphone has become a constant and indispensable companion due to its feature of close physical contact for parents and children alike. If a smartphone was a device whose exposure could be controlled by simply flipping a switch for 'on' and 'off,' as with TV and DVD devices, parents would be able to allow children to use them under restricted conditions considering certain rules of use and impact. However, since parents themselves are tied to smartphones 24 hours a day, children end up being introduced into this cohesive world of their parents. As discussed in Chapter 1, Section 8 of the survey report, children of all ages covered by the survey have made their smartphone debut during the past couple of years during which smartphones have disseminated widely throughout society (i.e., among the families where mothers use smartphones more than 30% of children aged from one to six years old started using a smartphone within a year before reaching their current age; see Table 1-8-3). This reveals that parents and children started using smartphones at about the same time.

The data provided in Chapter 2, Section 1 of the survey report shows that only 2.5% (for video game console) to 6.6% (for tablet devices), an extremely low percentage, of mothers under the survey replied they filter their children's online media. This indicates that children started using the new media tool before parents could determine how to let their children use the tool. In addition, the data provided in Chapter 3, Section 5 asking if "discussion is held among the family whether the contents that children watch or use is appropriate for their age," shows that only 14.8% of the mothers replied "Yes, definitely," and 33.5% replied "sometimes," indicating that less than 50% of families make use of parental controls.

Under such circumstances, as well as the need for educating users, I strongly urge the creators of media devices and contents to consider the installation of protective blocking options effective for software, devices and systems, and to develop contents appropriate for respective age levels that help their learning by making use of the advantages of a new media.

3. Children and Parents with Media Tools in the Future

For the healthy development of children, they need to receive abundant stimulation from their surrounding environment, such as interpersonal and physical stimulus. Children should experience a variety of well-balanced activities in their daily lives such as chatting and playing with friends and parents, experiencing nature, getting physical activities, quietly concentrating on reading picture books, drawing, or playing with toys. Even though children are introduced to new media tools, the survey also revealed that a certain amount of time is reserved to spend on various activities in total (Chapter 1, Section 3). This indicates that a lot of parents understand the importance of such activities and are trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle for their children. The results showed that most families set rules for children's watching TV, videos, DVDs and playing video games. However, a large proportion of parents of lower-aged children have not set rules for smartphones and mobile phones, which indicates that they are still in the phase of seeking better ways that these tools can be used by children.

In the coming years, the scope, frequency and degree of the use of media will expand further, as many parents predict; therefore, children will be required to learn the effective use of various media as a child and as they grow into adults. There may be a lot of aspects of devices like smartphones and tablets which are yet to be discovered by the parents, but nevertheless it is desirable to enjoy using them with your children and become efficient users together. There may be times when children learn faster than adults. No doubt we will overhear things like "Hey, can you teach mom how to use that?" I would like you to enjoy your parent-and-child time through such conversations with your children.

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