A lot of parents are worried about their children spending too much in front of the phone or tablet. Parents in Taiwan now have to do something about it.
Lawmakers have expanded existing legislation to say that children under 18 on the island “may not constantly use electronic products for a period of time that is not reasonable.” The law now equates spending excess time on electronic devices with other more commonly-accepted vices, such as smoking, drinking, drugs, watching sexual or violent imagery, and chewing betel nuts.
Parents who expose their kids to electronic products to the point where become “physically or mentally” ill are liable for a $1,600 fine. Of course, the law doesn’t say exactly how much time is unreasonable, which will no doubt complicate enforcement.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends a maximum of two hours a day of screen time for kids, found in a recent study that US eight-year-olds spend an average of eight hours with some form of media—and many child-development psychologists urge more unstructured play time. In addition, there is another factor not covered in this law, which is the damage done to children from the fact that their parents are themselves always connected.
Taiwan is not the only country to take steps to regulate the use of electronic media, and particularly gaming among teenagers. China has been trying to deter people from playing online games for more than three hours at a stretch since 2005 and adopted further regulation in 2010, while South Korea last year regulating online games and e-sports as if they were addictive substances.
If the Taiwanese law is successful and copied by others, it may help to prevent nomophobia—”no mobile phobia”—the fear of being without one’s electronic device, which a study recently suggested can actually impair mental performance. In the experiment, not being able to answer a ringing iPhone made the participants worse at puzzle-solving, and led to anxiety and even higher blood pressure.
Perhaps Taiwan is on to something, and we should follow the advice of Pope Francis, who this week urged everyone to put down their iPhones and talk to each other.