EDITORIAL: Phone addiction needs reflection 1

While it is common to see a whole family staring at their smartphones instead of talking to each other at a restaurant, it is definitely not something that should be regarded as normal or acceptable, but despite repeated warnings by medical and mental health experts, the problem only seems to get worse.

Reports in the past two weeks have focused on children. The Taipei Times yesterday quoted a doctor who warned that overuse of smartphones could lead to retinal detachment, which happened to a junior-high student who used the phone for 90 minutes per day.

In the report, Kaohsiung Chang Gung Memorial Hospital ophthalmologist Wu Pei-chang (吳佩昌) suggested that increasing outdoor activity could reduce the onset of myopia in children. This is even more important during summer break, when they have more time to stare at their phones.

Another doctor urged parents to be vigilant about balancing their children’s activities over the holidays — but the bigger problem is that many parents are doing the same thing themselves, although they are likely worse, as no one is keeping them in check.

Nobody gets angry — or even notices — when people bump into each other when staring at their cellphones anymore. Children might be more at risk, but with adults setting such a poor example, they are less likely to listen and change their behavior.

This leads to the next report, which is more depressing: A King Car Cultural and Educational Foundation survey released two weeks ago found that more than 80 percent of fifth to 11th-graders preferred to stay at home during their summer vacation, while 73.7 percent chose “playing with their cellphones” as their preferred form of entertainment.

This is unfortunate, because as parents gradually begin to value creative and nonacademic education, there will only be more opportunities for children to learn outside the classroom while having fun during the summer, from going to rural areas to experience farm life to workshops that allow them to create their own theatrical productions.

Just a decade or two ago, academic pressure was so overwhelming that students spent most of their breaks in cram schools. Now there is more freedom and parents should have their children do something other than stay at home with their phones.

This goes back to the first issue of parents preferring to spend their free time at home looking at their phones. Somehow, this problem is still not taken seriously enough.

It is almost like smoking in the early days — despite mounting evidence that it caused cancer as early as the 1940s, it took a long time before people became fully aware of its harms, and it is still widespread today. At least people who smoke are aware that it is bad for their health, but this does not seem to be the case for cellphone addiction.

Yes, smartphones are very addictive, but the moment people stop batting an eye at a phone-addicted family at a restaurant or a person who walks into a wall while staring at their phone, such behavior becomes normalized.

More effort is needed, as periodical medical warnings are not enough. The most effective way to change behavior is by educating children, but how does education begin when most adults are behaving even worse?