Playing Smartphones in Front of Children is as Harmful as Second-hand Smoking
According to the FastCompany article, parents using smartphones in front of their children will affect the development of their nervous system. Their harm to children’s health is comparable to second-hand smoke.
In 1991, the US Environmental Protection Agency first warned about the dangers of second-hand smoke. In fact, as early as about 30 years ago, scientists have determined that smoking can cause cancer. At present, more and more studies are pointing to a brand new indirect health hazard.
Just as often associated with smokers can cause cancer, induce heart disease, lung disease and other diseases, what we call ‘second-hand screen time’ can also be harmful to children.
Because they don’t pay attention to how long they use the phone, parents may unknowingly addicted to the phone.
Mobile addiction does exist
Ten years ago, in the writing class I taught, students couldn’t help looking at their smartphones during the 50-minute class, which inspired my interest in screen time. My students are increasingly reluctant to drop their phones, as are other classes.
Out of curiosity about the use of my student’s smartphone, I started researching the issue of screen addiction and investigated it. When describing their smartphone usage habits, about 20% of students used the word ‘addiction’, and more students expressed concerns about their use of smartphones.
Although students are encouraged to check their own habits, blame for their tech addiction is less than 10 years ago. Many of them are accustomed to using smartphones too much, especially adults.
Checking Twitter in front of children doesn’t seem to be the same thing as smoking cigarettes on their faces. However, smartphones and cigarettes have something in common. Both are addictive, and they have become very popular before researchers understand their addiction and health hazards.
American adults touch their phones more than 2,500 times a day on average. According to the American Psychiatric Association, this is already an addiction. Although researchers continue to study the impact of smartphone use, the academic community agrees that smartphone addiction does exist.
Smartphones become babies’ favorite
What are parents doing while breastfeeding or holding their child to sleep?
They may be watching the news, checking emails, chatting with friends, or texting friends. Seeing a child means isolation from the outside world, and a smartphone or tablet computer becomes a channel for parents to communicate with the outside world.
However, children-even infants and young children-will notice these habits of parents. They see parents constantly touching ‘magic objects’ that glow, sound, and display moving images.
Who doesn’t want such a fun toy. The problem is that if the desire for the phone is established during infancy, it may become second nature.
Watching smartphones affects nervous system development
Some researchers have found that long screen usage, especially when using a smartphone, is associated with inattention, behavioral problems, sleep problems, poor social abilities, loneliness, anxiety, and depression.
The Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and Israel Educational Neuroimaging Center recently published a paper in JAMA Pediatrics describing the cognitive-behavioral risks of preschool children’s exposure to screen-based media, including video games, TV, websites, and applications. Studies have found that cellphones are particularly problematic because they allow users to use all of these media. Researchers have found that watching the screen affects the formation of the nervous system related to language development, expression, and reading skills.
These studies point to another consequence of excessive screen use, especially for younger children. Since 96% of Americans have a smartphone, many babies can access it shortly after birth, a risk that is better understood.
True, because of the myriad ways people use their devices, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to determine how long an American spends watching the screen. Since not all screen viewing time has the same impact, some experts have called for a ‘Human Screen Group Project’ to assess what people do with screens and figure out their consequences.
The brain is still developing
Younger children are more likely to become addicted to the same substance or behavior when they are exposed to harmful, habit-forming behaviors, such as smoking or gambling. Exposure to second-hand smoke itself can also make children addicted to smoking.
Although scientists are not yet sure whether children who watch their parents’ smartphones are addicted to phones, there is ample evidence that children learn and mimic parental behavior. If children see parents engaging in activities that they are prohibited from doing, and such activities do not seem to be harmful, they may be more eager for this ‘forbidden fruit’.
My mother smoked all her life. She was only 12 when she first smoked. After dinner one day, my grandfather, grandmother—they smoked a few packs of cigarettes a day, lit them, and gave her a cigarette case. It was the 1950s, and the dangers of smoking were unclear.
She took a cigarette and instead of coughing, she felt like ‘ascended to heaven’. My grandfather and grandmother often smoke in front of her, making her very eager to smoke and try the taste of smoking.
Whenever I see a toddler using a cell phone-just like they were born with a cell phone, I immediately think of the story of my mother smoking.
In the restaurant, I have seen parents give iPhones to 2-year-olds—the purpose is just to keep them from crying, just like my parents put me in front of the TV. The difference between the two is, I can’t move the TV to the dining table or elsewhere.
John Hutton is a pediatrician who is studying the effects of using smartphones on children. He found that about 90% of American children will have access to smartphones before the age of 1, and it is not uncommon for children aged 2-3 to watch smartphones.
Getting rid of smartphone addiction is difficult
Before the age of 25, the human brain does not stop developing. So childhood habits can have significant and lasting effects. Studies have shown that adolescents’ brains are particularly adventurous, herd-like, and impulsive.
Isn’t that enough to give us some idea of why so many teens are addicted to smartphones?
My students described the disturbing and frustrating quietness of others sitting at a table or in a dormitory while indulging in their phones. Smartphones help them complete a lot of important communication, especially with friends and family.
But while in school, they can realize what they’ve lost on their phones for too long, and they can evaluate their habits and make changes if they want. But they never thought it was normal to give up their phones completely.
However, children 2 months or 2 years old do not have this ability because their brains are still developing and they cannot fully control their impulses.
Most adults may also be unable to control impulses. But as the current adult shoulders the responsibility of cultivating the next generation, we should pay attention to the second-generation effect of our behavior.