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A recent Cabinet Office survey found that today’s Japanese youngsters are spending more time on their mobile and smartphones than ever before. According to the survey, nearly 60 percent of children aged 10 to 17 have mobile phones or smartphones and use them to browse the Internet more than ever before. Over one-third of primary school children, over half of middle- school students and an astonishing 97.2 percent of high school students own mobile or smartphones.

Of course, students do not just own the phones; they use them. The total time spent on the Internet with mobile or smartphones on a weekday was a startling 107.4 minutes a day, on average, a 50 percent increase from the 2010 survey. Smart phone using students spent even more time on the Internet, 132.6 minutes a day on average. Mobile and smartphones are taking up a much larger part of young people’s lives than ever before.

Clearly, students are spending more time fiddling with new apps, playing online games, and sending messages on social networking sites. Surely some educational apps may help students learn, and social interaction is essential to development and students need time to just play. However, two hours spent on the Internet is two hours not spent reading a book, engaging in sports, talking face to face or enjoying the outdoors.

Two hours on the Internet also means students can be constantly solicited by online stores, targeted advertising and consumer trends — encounters they would be very unlikely to have in a library or on a sports field. The survey also found that 49.3 percent of students with phones said they experienced Internet-related troubles, such as unwanted chain mails. Only 55 percent of parents used filters to protect students from potentially harmful websites, down eight percentage points from 2012.

No parent, educator or government office will be able to slow down the increase in student ownership of mobile and smartphones. But they can provide guidance, advice and supervision. Parents, teachers and the government can teach students proper and meaningful ways of using their phones and how to set limits. Students must be redirected to engaging in activities that help them develop creative, constructive and critical thinking habits, rather than developing an early addiction to phone usage.

Since students will still get online, software developers should aim to provide apps, games and sites that help students develop creative, social and thinking abilities, rather than divert them into buying products or services. Most important, adults can also help youngsters understand that among the wide range of activities they can engage in their lives, hunching over a small screen alone punching buttons is not the most meaningful or helpful.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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