Cell Phones: The Physio-Psycho-Social Attack on the Primary School Children

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A bittersweet reality

Smartphones are causing more harm than good. According to Pellissie (2018), a survey showed that over 52,680 children, who use the cell phones excessively, had higher odds of migraines and head-related symptoms. In our society today, cell phones have evolved, providing a variety of functions suitable to our needs, including smartphones and iPhones. Smartphones are model computers that can place and receive calls, connect to a virtual store comprising of thousands of applications such as: games, image editors, words processors, multiple web browser options, through internet access, allowing employees to work from anywhere and helping people to stay in touch with each other. Jackson (2018), stated that the first cellular telephone was created on April 3, 1973, in Manhattan and upgraded versions were developed by different people as the first iPhone was invented, by Steve Jobs. These devices provide a range of benefits for young children including: entertainment and games; being able to communicate in the event of an emergency and assisting with school tasks by increasing a child’s knowledge in different subject areas, as there is an availability of online dictionaries and encyclopedias. Apart from its practicality, cell phone use has become a growing concern as it is very harmful to the holistic development of primary school children because it causes physiological or medical conditions as well as psychological and social issues and for these reasons, the government of Trinidad and Tobago should provide practical guidelines for the use of cell phones by primary school children on a daily basis.

Incessant use of cell phones can potentially disrupt a young child’s physiological function, increasing the likelihood of the occurrence of a number of health concerns. One in particular is cancer. Studies done by the National Toxicology Program (NTP, 2019), revealed that cell phones can potentially cause brain and heart cancer. They emit radio-frequency electromagnetic radiation (RF-EMR), which is categorized as a potential carcinogen as stated by the World Health Organization (WHO, 2011). Undoubtedly, a child’s body is smaller than that of an adult, placing them at an even greater risk, as they are exposed to the same levels of radiation when using a cell phone. Within our country, children have been diagnosed with cancer. Although there is no direct link to cell phones, there is a risk and it should be monitored.

Besides the risk of cancer, myopia is another matter of concern. Also known as near-sightedness, myopia is the inability to see far objects. The Academy of Ophthalmology provides evidence of a study done by Ku et al., (2019) showing that near-work activities, for instance reading as well as an increased duration and frequency of screen time from using devices such as cell phones, can contribute to myopia in children, ages 7 to 12. If it is not detected early retinal detachment or glaucoma can result in the future. Not only are they at risk of cancer and eye problems, there is a growing concern of obesity. Wada et al., (2019) believe that children from 6 to 7 years who use cell phones for an extended period of time were at a higher risk of being overweight due to an increased level of inactivity. A child’s body will not adequately develop if they only participate in sedentary activities. Apart from these potential physical health concerns, cell phones are a major contributing factor to mental health.

Cognitive skills in children are developed progressively as they grow, yet cell phone use has been linked to psychological issues. As stated by Kadaras et al., (2017) too much exposure to devices, such as iPhones, and smartphones, causes major psychological issues to develop in young children, including depression, anxiety, increased stress-levels, aggression and sleep problems. A study done by the Clinical Psychological Science found that adolescents in grades 8-12 (i.e. 12 to 17 years), who have increased time on new media (including smartphones) had an intensified rate of depressive symptoms, suicide-related outcomes, and suicide rates. This is an indication of what can occur in the future if our children at the primary level (ages 5-12) continue to uses cell phones without adequate guidance. Shoukat (2019), explains, “Sleep deficit, anxiety, stress, and, depression which are all associated with internet abuse, have been related to mobile phone usage.”

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Similarly, Thomee (2018), believed that the light projected from the smartphones, is disrupting the release of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep, and is causing the individual to take a longer period of time to fall asleep at night resulting in less sleep time. This in turn, is liable to ensue tiredness in a child, affecting their ability to function properly at school. As expressed by Collier (2016), children who spend excessive time on these devices, are becoming more and more apprehensive with regards to everyday situations, thus leading to the development of anxiety related problems in the young individual. They are unable to concentrate on their school work, causing them to be inattentive, disruptive, agitated and depressed. Kadaras (2017), shockingly but truthfully declared, that taking advantage of screen time can neurologically damage a young person’s brain, in the same way that cocaine addiction can. He also stated, that after spending too much time on these devices, some children experience hallucinations, which he observed during his counselling session with a young patient showing that exposure to glowing screens causes some children to be confused as to what is genuine and unreal. Sad to say, but these devices are doing more harm than good, causing not only psychological impacts, but also negative social outcomes.

The growth of child at the primary level is highly dependent on their social development, however cell phone use can negatively affect their progression. One of these issues, is a lack of face to face interaction. As mentioned by The American Academy of Pediatrics (2018), “Very young children learn best through two-way communication, as engaging in back-and forth ‘talk time’ is critical for language development.” Insufficient interaction between children and others can have a devastating effect on their development. For it is through social interaction that they can learn how to effectively communicate with others; it is also a way in which they can learn to speak and expand on their vocabulary alongside reading books. Another social issue arising is cell phone addiction by children, as parents struggle to limit their children’s use of media and technology.

According to Common Sense Media (2016), a study with 803 American parents of 8 to 17 year olds found that about one-third of all participating parents expressed that they experienced difficulty in managing their child’s use of devices. As a result of a child’s addiction to cell phones, they are deprived of quality time that should be spent with their loved ones. Cyberbullying has become a major subject of discussion affecting children socially as it can occur via social networking sites while using computers, however an article written by Schwartz (2018) highlights the results of an investigation conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition showing children who owned cell phones were significantly more likely to report being victims of cyberbullying, especially in grades 3 and 4. Researchers collected data from 4,584 students in grades 3, 4, and 5 between 2014 and 2016 showing approximately 9.5% acknowledged that they had been a victim of cyberbullying in the past. As a result, emphasis should be placed on factors impacting young children as a result of cell phone use, even though it is a gadget that has been designed to perform numerous functions.

Despite evident research indicating negative impacts of cell phones on children at the primary level, these devices are fundamentally useful in today’s culture. Cell phones can be considered an excellent academic resource as an article written in The Conversation quotes Orlando (2018) saying that, “A good education for students today is knowing how to use technology to learn, communicate, and work with ideas.” Additionally, as mentioned previously, features of smart phones and iPhones are impressive, facilitating a smoother learning process. Cell phone use by primary school children is common within Trinidad and Tobago, however the government can inform citizens on the implications of cell phone use as well as provide necessary guidelines in relation to the American Academy of Pediatrics by advising parents to: limit screen time to 1 hour per day for primary school children; designate cell phone-free times and areas, for example the dinner table and bedrooms; supervise programs and applications used by children; continuously communicate the dangers of using cell phones to children. These instructions can be used as a guide to invoke Parliamentary debate in an effort to curtail the potential effects of cell phone use on our primary school children.

As we conclude, we reiterate the need for guidelines that should be utilized with regards to cell phone use to mitigate physiological, psychological and social impacts on the primary school child. Knowing and understanding these impacts as well as implementing changes would be a sustainable achievement toward their holistic development.

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