Big in Japan: Are children becoming addicted to cell phones?

At the risk of sounding like the anchorman on your local news channel, I’ll go head and pose a somewhat sensationalist question:

Are children suffering from cell phone addiction?

If you’re a member of the Japanese government, then the answer is a resounding ‘yes.’

According to Mr. Masahuru Kuba, a high-ranking government official who is proposing a limited ban on cell phones in schools, young students are suffering from the negative effects of cell phone overuse. In particular, Mr. Kuba believes that cell phone addiction can cause kids to inadvertently participate in cyber crimes, and sacrifice free time in favor of exchanging text messages with their friends.

“Japanese parents are giving cell phones to their children without giving it enough thought,” says Mr. Kuba. “In Japan, cell phones have become expensive toys that have moved beyond mere communication devices. Parents are finding it more and more difficult to monitor what they’re children are doing with their cell phones.”

Indeed, the numbers are striking. According to government statistics published by the Ministry of Education, about one-third of Japanese sixth graders have cell phones, while almost two-thirds of ninth graders have them. However, some Japanese children commute long distances by trains and buses to schools, and busy parents rely on cell phones to keep in touch with their children.

Along with the proposed partial ban of cell phones in schools, Mr. Masahuru Kuba is also recommending that Japanese cell phone makers implement special child-friendly models. Specifically, these models would only feature talking functions and global positioning systems (GPS), which would allow parents to monitor the location of their child.

In particular, Mr. Kuba is worried about the growing trend of using cell phones for internet access and e-mail. According to Mr. Kuba: “Some children are spending hours at night on e-mail with their friends. One phenomenon is ‘the 30 minute rule,’ in which a child who doesn’t respond to e-mail within half an hour gets targeted and picked on by other schoolmates.”

In addition, other children have become victims of internet crimes. In one high profile case, a young girl was asked to send in her snapshots for a beauty contest, and was then blackmailed for money in order to have them taken down from an explicit website. While Japan does boast a relatively low crime rate in comparison to other developed nations, Internet-crime is sadly on the rise, especially since Japanese people tend to be very trusting people.

So, once again I pose the question to all of you: do you think that children are suffering from cell phone addiction?

Feel free to chime in and share your thoughts as this is certainly not a clear cut and dry issue, and it’s likely that you’re going to start to hear more about this in the years to come. After all, cell phones in Japan are already equipped with television, so it’s only a matter of time before Americans can start taking their favorite shows with them everywhere…