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posted: 12/28/2013 7:00 AM

Experts discourage letting smartphones babysit infants

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Washington Post

TOKYO -- Using a smartphone as a "baby sitter" may adversely affect the development of minds and bodies of babies, the Japan Pediatric Association has warned.

The association, which is worried about the negative impact of smartphones on infants, will begin educational activities next month to encourage parents to refrain from using a smartphone as a tool to take care of their children.

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With the popularization of smartphones, there has been an increasing number of applications aimed at babies, such as picture books and puzzles, with some of the more popular apps being downloaded more than 1 million times.

Some parents give their smartphones to children to let them play with such apps or watch animated videos and leave them alone, according to the association.

"When my child cries while we're outside, I automatically hand my smartphone to my baby," said the mother of a 1-year-old in Tokyo.

One company that makes and sells apps for infants created special guidelines for using smartphones with babies. The five-point guidelines, which are posted on the company's website, recommend parents and children use a smartphone together while having a conversation, and suggest coming up with ways to engage in creative activities using such devices.

However, the association's executive director, Hiromi Utsumi, warned that vital communication between parent and child risks being lost with increased reliance on such devices. "Infancy is a crucial period for physical and brain development. When children become upset, many parents give them a smartphone to keep them quiet," she said. "But if parents do this, they have fewer chances to communicate through pacifying their babies while watching how they react."

She also said the action of repeatedly touching a screen to engage with a virtual environment is worrisome, as it could affect the development of hand functions and the five senses.

Based on such concerns, the association plans as part of its educational activities to call for parents to avoid the following: showing a smartphone to babies to make them stop crying; giving them a smartphone to play with alone; allowing infants to use smartphones while in a stroller.

The association plans to create an educational poster next month and display it at children's hospitals starting next year.

A study in March by Okayama, Japan-based Benesse Educational Research and Development Institute showed that 60 percent of 3,000 mothers of preschool children had a smartphone, and 80 percent of those aged 29 or younger had one.

More than 20 percent of 2-year-olds of mothers who use a smartphone touch the device almost every day.

"I understand that for parents who raise their children in solitude, a smartphone is an important tool to gather information. But I want them to cherish direct contact and dialogue with their babies," the association's chairman, Takamitsu Matsudaira, said.

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