Researchers: Giving kids smartphones risks mental health

EXPOSING young children to hand-held devices including tablets, smartphones and even the internet could be putting their mental health at risk, with two leading researchers warning the swing towards embracing technology may have gone too far.

Sydney child psychiatrist and lecturer Philip Tam is one of Australia's top minds researching "internet gaming disorder" - essentially video game or internet addiction.

He said the constant feedback and interaction young people have with technology creates similar sensations to gambling, drug abuse or drinking alcohol.

Dr Tam said research suggested for young children, this technology could deprive them of critical brain development and even put their social skills at risk.

"A lot of international research shows about 5% of all schoolkids have a problem," Dr Tam said.

"That translates to thousands of schoolkids with potential problems. We need to take it seriously."

Dragging children into the digital world early was fashionable when personal computers were growing in popularity.

At that time, users needed to learn an often complicated language just to launch a game.

The now-intuitive nature of new-generation devices means there is no need for early immersion in computers.

University of Sunshine Coast Associate Professor Michael Nagel said it came down to "what kind of child would you like".

Should our children be tech-savvy if it means they sacrifice running around outside or do we need a balance?

"We're not going to take technology out of the equation but it's a question of what you think might be best for your child," Assoc Prof Nagel said.

Studies suggested "we have gone way overboard" with allowing kids to use technology from such a young age, he said.

For anyone who has felt the pang of concern when seeing a child using an iPad at a cafe or restaurant, Dr Tam feels the same.

"It makes me a touch nervous if (parents) are not interacting with that child or infant," he said.

"That is, if they are using it as a digital nanny.

"This clearly has potential ramifications for social skills development and it is a problem all of society must look at more carefully."



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