Using the Internet or a mobile network almost inevitably entails that we will encounter some danger or trouble, such as net-bullying, illegal sites, bogus claims and so forth. Forbidding children to use them, however, means that they will never learn to deal with these dangers or troubles themselves. In fact, since mobile phones have become a part of children's daily life and are being used well and conveniently, it is not necessary to take them away from children. Instead of prohibition, children need guidance that is adapted to each stage of their development. This means first restricting network use, and then gradually easing restrictions, guiding them on how to judge whether a site is dangerous or not and how to prevent communication problems from becoming serious.
Havighurst, R. J. (1900-1991), a psychologist of developmental theory, stated that "Developmental tasks are those that arise at each period in a human's life, the successful achievement of which will lead to healthy and happy development." It is not an exaggeration to say that providing direction to children in the use of mobile networks according to their developmental stage is as necessary as in scholastic learning. If this direction is given too early or too late, the effect will be reduced by half, but given at a specific developmental stage, it is likely to be effective. We classified the developmental stages of mobile network use into four stages comparable to the stages that children undergo when learning how to ride a bicycle: "Tricycle Period", "Training Wheel Period", "Two-wheel Period" and the "Independent Period" (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Developmental stages of mobile network use
The "Tricycle Period" refers to the period when children use the network with parents and use is technically restricted by filtering, etc. (Figure 2). Children in the lower and middle grades of elementary school (6-9 years old) are considered to be in this period. Until the age of 9, children follow the guidance of their parents or guardian without protest. During this period, children are still willing to play or study with parents. They also feel more secure when using the Internet or a mobile network with a parent.
Consequently, at this stage, parents/guardians should use the Internet and mobile networks together with the child and only when necessary, let the child take the mobile phone of either of the parents, when, for example, going to the park alone. In this case, it is also necessary to set up an access password, filtering function, or other technical restrictions on the mobile phone when used by the child or on the computer that can be used by the child.
Figure 2: Tricycle Period
Figure 3: Training Wheel Period
However, after the age of 9, children tend to ask "why" for anything, and they will not easily follow instructions if they do not make sense. This is because they are beginning to become awakened to independence. At this stage, it is necessary to train children to use the Internet by themselves, but with the aid of adults, just as when they learned to ride a bicycle with the aid of training wheels. For this reason, this period is called the "Training Wheel Period" (Figure 3), and it includes students in the higher grades of elementary school to middle school (age 10-14). Children begin to use the computer and mobile phone independently, with certain technical restrictions, such as filtering, access password, etc., but it is necessary for teachers or parents/guardians to supervise their use. In this period, it is important to ensure that these three layers of supervision (technical restrictions, parents/guardians, and teachers) function well. On the other hand, it is also important to train children to use the Internet correctly and gradually without this supervision. During first period (primary school), children's Internet use should be supervised with the help of "training wheels," but it is difficult to follow middle school students to monitor their use at all times. This is, consequently, the time to change the method of supervision to monitoring their Internet and network use with the help of a mobile portfolio.
The training wheel period is over when it is clear that the child has become able to use the Internet safely. At this point, it should be no problem for children to independently use a computer or mobile phone on which Internet access is restricted with filtering or a password. This period is called "Two-wheel period" (Figure 4) for high school students (age 15-17). Of course, there should be an agreement between parents/guardians and the child in advance about use time, fees, and so on, and the parents/guardians should monitor at a distance to ensure safe use. It is necessary to set up guidelines to respond to Internet bullying, mental abuse, bogus claims and other trouble that can arise in order to immediately respond and give children guidance.
Figure 4: Two-wheel Period
After the age of 18, many children begin to live on their own. If a child has been well trained in Internet use at each stage of development, he/she should have the ability to solve problems by him/herself, and this includes getting advice from National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan (NCAC), turning to the police and so on. This period is called the "Independent Period." At this point, children are likely to be able to rely on their own judgment and without technical restrictions.
Recently, fraud cases involving dating sites and Internet users over the age of forty appear to be increasing. If they had been trained in Internet use based on developmental stage, they would be able to deal with such things and perhaps would not have encountered such trouble. Nowadays, children live in a world permeated by the Internet. Banning them from using the Internet will deprive them of the opportunity to learn to use it correctly. Under such conditions, without experience and the necessary training, they are likely to encounter irrevocable trouble as adults. Therefore, we hope parents and teachers will supervise children's Internet use and give them appropriate training based on their developmental stage. This will equip them with the necessary ability to deal with information, judge information and communicate when they become adults.
Hiroko Kanoh, "Sokuresu Shokogun-no Kodomotachi ? Keitai-Net Shido-no Susumekata" ("Children with quick response syndrome ? method to give instructions on mobile network"), NIPPONHYOJUN Co.Ltd., 2007