Municipalities begin making rules for children’s use of smartphones

JIJI

Municipal governments and parent-teacher associations in Japan are leading efforts to create new rules for use of smartphones among children in order to mitigate increasing problems.

Smartphones and free communication apps, such as Line, are popular even among elementary and junior high school students, affecting children’s health and learning as well as becoming a means for bullying and sex offenses.

In Kariya, Aichi Prefecture, all 21 elementary and junior high schools in the city have urged families to create rules based on guidelines. The guidelines call on parents to hold back buying smartphones for their children, use filtering software on existing phones and not allow smartphones to be used by children after 9 p.m.

The guidelines were drawn up by a group of principals of kindergartens, elementary, junior high and high schools that was formed to promote the well-being of children.

“We devised the guidelines because problems associated with Line have become an issue,” said Fushitoshi Ohashi, 59-year-old principal of Karigane Junior High School and former head of the group. “Parents sign the contracts and then give the smartphones to their children. I want parents to take responsibility and keep them away from children.”

Marin Onoda, a 14-year-old student at the junior high school, uses Line a couple of hours a day. She leaves her phone with her parents after 10 p.m.

“I made a promise with my parents. These rules are hard for me,” Onoda said.

Besides the city, officials in the town of Taka in Hyogo Prefecture are calling for children to be barred from using social networking sites after 9 p.m.

In Miyagi Prefecture, Sendai officials are distributing leaflets asking teachers, students and parents to limit social network use among children to less than one hour per day.

“It is important that each family sets rules after children have discussed the need for rules at school and home,” said Masashi Yasukawa, 48, head of the national web counseling council, a private organization familiar with how children use smartphones. “Children don’t follow rules if they aren’t convinced,” Yasukawa said.

  • GBR48

    The jury may be out on whether a ban or instruction is the best response to this-probably a mix. If it isn’t already happening, every school in Japan should be teaching kids about staying safe online, not least because many parents might not be as computer literate as they need to be. Schools may want to roll that out before Japanese-language versions of services like YouNow take off.

    Safe online behaviour is a fundamental life skill that all kids need to learn: Keeping your clothes on, protecting yourself from cyber bullying, not going to visit strangers you met online, and not racking up a giant bill through in-app fees and pay-as-you-play games. Teach it as early as you need to, to every child.

    It would help if every school had a single, nominated member of staff that children could ask advice from and report personal concerns to, whether offline (bullying, sexual and physical abuse, depression) or online. A member of staff chosen on the basis of their personality as well as their training and skills. Someone every child in the school could feel that they could go to with their problems.