December 13, 2004

NEWS: Young and mobile - should we be worried? (NEW ZEALAND)

Young and mobile - should we be worried?
by Amanda Spratt
How young is too young? That's the question being asked in the wake of claims from child advocates that the trend of promoting technology to tots has gone too far.

The criticism follows a new Telecom advertising campaign featuring pre-schoolers boasting they have mobile technology faster and flasher than everyone else. And in the build-up to Christmas, there's the Barbie doll who texts.

The latest campaigns have raised concerns among children's advocates, who say they fear the psychological damage new technology can have on children.

Children's Commissioner Cindy Kiro said she had concerns about the way some technology was being marketed to children.

And Green MP Sue Kedgely has also called for telecommunications businesses to show more social responsibility toward children.

Mrs Kedgely, who is pushing for a code of conduct to prevent companies like Telecom and Vodafone from targeting children, said using pre-schoolers to sell cellphones and glamourising mobiles through toys was "appalling".

"It's exploiting children to make money. It's normalising and glamourising five-year-olds having cellphones," she said.

While Barbie's phone was only a toy, Mrs Kedgely said such ideas only encouraged children to ask for a real phone next. Colourful phones with dinky designs marketed at children were also "irresponsible", she said. "We're bringing up kids addicted to and dependent on technology."

Dr Judith Duncan, a lecturer at Otago University's Children's Issues Centre, agreed, saying parents needed to think very carefully about when to introduce technology into their child's life.

Toys like the new text Barbie could have devastating effects on a child's mental development, hampering their capacity to learn how to imagine, create and simply talk to others.

"It's sucking children into using cellphones at much too young an age, but it's also encouraging meaningless interactions which aren't about building real relationships."

Scenes of teenagers sitting in a food hall constantly texting without saying a word to each other were "bizarre and worrying", she said.

Spending hours texting, an inactive and socially isolating activity, could also lead to a lack of confidence and poor health and fitness.

"Children are missing out on the wonders of actually exploring the world," she said.

Unicef's Beth Wood warned too much technology could see children abandoning other activities essential for healthy development.

"It doesn't seem to be encouraging social relationships with real people. There's all sorts of exciting fun things that kids can be doing that aren't electronic."

Ms Kiro said she would prefer children didn't spend all their time texting.

Chris Schuepp
Young People's Media Network - Coordinator
c/o ecmc (European Centre for Media Competence)
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