More parents using smartphones to entertain kids

A man uses the touch screen of his mobile phone as his children look on. (AFP Photo/Tang Chhin Sothy)
A man uses the touch screen of his mobile phone as his children look on. (AFP Photo/Tang Chhin Sothy)

Gone are the days when you would see a toddler playing with his toy cars or his mother reading a storybook to him while waiting for food to be served in a restaurant. Parents today are using their iPhone and iPad to engage with squirmy kids in public places.

In Singapore, 35-year-old father Benjamin Seah counts himself as one such parent.

"During MRT rides or while getting stuck in line at a grocery store, my three-year-old son will always pester me to give him my iPhone to play with," he told Yahoo! Singapore. "Apparently, my son prefers playing the 'Cut the Rope' iPhone game to his Transformers action figure."

This has raised concerns that young children may be missing out on their social and motor development because of too much technology in their environment.

According to a recent study conducted by Internet company AVG, 19 percent of children aged two to five are smart enough to use a smartphone, but only nine percent of the same age group can tie their shoelaces, one of the most basic life skills.

One expert Yahoo! Singapore spoke to thinks smartphones might also have a negative influence on kids if not handled under proper adult supervision.

Ng Wai Ling, a 42-year-old child psychologist, said: "On one occasion, while my four-year-old nephew was watching Barney and Friends on the YouTube application of his dad's iPhone, he suddenly burst into tears. It turned out that he had accidentally navigated to a parody video showing Barney exchanging some fierce punches with another cartoon character."

In addition, she claimed that exposing toddlers to smartphones is the fundamental reason why more children today own mobile phones, especially smartphones, at such a young age.

"As they become more familiar with smartphones, it increases their desire to own one themselves, and there are kids out there who have a mobile phone as young as the age of six," she explained.

However, as a few experts Yahoo! Singapore spoke to have pointed out, there are many things a smartphone can do beyond just being an entertainment device for kids. For example, the iPhone could be used a calculator to teach children how to add up what the groceries are going to cost or how much can one can save with a 5 percent discount on a good.

One expert stressed the importance of having children pick up tech skills from a young age.

"Technology advances with a geometric progression, and we need to constantly expose our Generation Z to gadgets and the Internet so that they will not lose out to their peers in terms of technology competency when they grow up," said Anne Tan, a 37-year-old educator who, for the past five years, has been researching on the impact of technology on young children.

She added: "If you take a look at some of the best-selling toys throughout the years, you'd have realised that kids have always loved to play with toy cars and cooking toys. There seemed to be a linear relationship between what they like to play and what their parents have, and considering the amount of time parents spend on their phones, it makes sense that kids would want them, too."

The writer is a 17-year-old technology blogger who loves social media and gadgets. He is also Singapore's No. 1 Twitter user, with 192,000 followers.

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