More than a third of children in Sweden’s cities complain that their parents spend too much time staring at phones and tablet computers, leading doctors in the country to warn that children may be suffering emotional and cognitive damage.
According to a survey by YouGov, 33% of parents in Sweden’s major towns and cities have received complaints from their children about their excessive phone use.
The survey also found that more than one in five parents in Stockholm and its suburbs admit to having lost sight of their children while out after being distracted by their phones.
“Of course it will affect their emotional development,” said Dr Roland Sennerstam, one of several paediatricians in the country to warn of the phenomenon. “I sometimes see children tapping their parents on the back to get attention, but the parents give them no time.”
Sweden now boasts the second highest smartphone usage in western Europe after Norway. According to data from Google, 63% of adults own an iPhone, Android phone or Windows phone.
Hanna Grönborg, 36, has seen the phenomenon first hand at the playground in Malmö where she regularly takes her three-year-old son. “I saw this terrible thing,” she said. “There was a dad there with his daughter and he just couldn’t take his eyes off the screen. And his daughter was just walking around, calling for her dad. She stood by the swing, looking meaningfully up at him, and seemed really lonely and he just totally ignored her, and this went on for ages.”
Sennerstam believes parental distraction could also be affecting children’s language development. “Even in the first year, I encourage parents to use language during their daily activities, and give their children new words all the time,” he said. “If parents are more interested in using their mobile phones, I think it will have a bad effect on the language development of their children.”
Barwin Kuchak, 28, who was dropping her son Karam off at day care on Thursday, agreed that mobile phone addiction was depriving her family of quality time. “We lose meals together, because I’m on my phone and he is too,” she said. “When we are together, everybody has to play on the internet or Facebook. I think it’s a shame it’s become like this. Everyone is preoccupied.” Karam, who is five, said that if his mother and father were too absorbed, he often tried to speak to his own friends over the internet.
However, some experts suggest the problem is exaggerated. Paediatrician and author Lars Gustafsson, who was extensively quoted in Swedish media earlier this week warning of the dangers of phone addiction, later qualified his remarks in a blog post.
“Children have experienced parents who are absent in spirit at all times and in all families,” he wrote. “Adults have the right to occasionally get a brief moment for themselves. You just have to find the proper balance, and the question is whether mobiles have shifted the balance in the wrong direction. Yes, maybe.”
YouGov surveyed 521 parents across Sweden for the survey.
By Richard Orange © Guardian News and Media 2013
Image – AFP