Nikkei BP online released a survey results concerning the children’s Internet usage in March 2010. According to the release, the very first Internet device children own are:
- Nintendo DS, 62.9%
- Other game devices, 20%
- Play Station Portable, 6.9%
- Nintendo Wii, 5.1%
Mobile phone in fact comes as 5th, 4.1%. PC comes at the very last of this list as 6th, 0.7%.
While adults in Japan utilize the mobile phones excessively, from emails, browsers, mobile TVs, and e-wallets, the penetration of mobile phone used as an Internet device for children, is extremely low.
So when do children start owning mobile phones? According to the government’s survey in 2007, 31.3% of the primary school student (< age 12), 57.6% of of junior-high (up to age 15), and 96.0％ of high-school students own one.
The primary reason for this low penetration of mobile Internet use is naturally the data cost. In many cases parents will pay for their phone bills and accessing online can be costly. Features like Wi-Fi is a feature yet associated with relatively new, smart phones, which will be too expensive to give away to their kids. Beyond that, the survey focuses on the ownership of the device, it fails to explain how much these devices are used to access online, and for what.
Game devices, they are simply the very first electronics that most kids own. Whether Nintendo DS or PSP, they both come with Wi-Fi feature by default. When I met quite children between ten and 14-years-old, they mentioned that they cannot recall anyone in the class without Nintendo DS. When they can name one, they always explained me the reason why: “His/Her parents are very strict, they are school teachers.” Somehow, children had good explanation why these kids did not have one.
When most start their portable gaming with DS, but as boys reach to the age of 10 or 11, some start to feel DS is not exciting enough: They want games to be more real, and in some cases, more violent. That is when they turn to PSP.
From what I gathered, children did not seem too enthusiastic about radio communication. It was quite a contrast, considering how adults went crazy last year with the classic Dragon Quest game, enabling passers-by to exchange virtual items on the street. Children do use radio communication, but from the way they have described, it was only an occasional and perpetual act: they spend far more time on their own fiddling with the game by him/herself, and they did not feel that they are so dedicated to wireless interaction.
I tend to forget, but children are very busy. Simply, they do not have time to see friends any more. Many children start preparing for the junior-high exams around the age of 11, and the ones they do not, tend to be engaged in football practices or ballet lessons, if not both. “I used to see my friends a lot more, now we just don’t have time.” The way they described sounded as it was one of the big changes in their life. By the age of 12, they are already looking back how things were when they were 10.
Turning back to the question on mobile phones, what is the situation? Mobile Internet has been publicly labeled as evil for youth. For a past decade or so, the very nature of personal device made children to access Internet behind parental control, which led some children to engage in accidents and crimes. One unfortunately common tragedy associated with mobile phones, is children committing suicide. Bullying others can be observed in many youth culture, but because these activities shifted from physical to virtual, it seems became even harder for teachers to spot before too late.
Although parental controls and filtering services took place, that did not appear sufficient to the government. Ministry of Education has officially announced that compulsory educational institutions forbid children to bring their mobile phones to school. Many schools individually set rules about what children should or should not bring to school, but mobile phone is the very first device the government itself has defined the rule. One city even have a slogan: “Do not possess, do not bring, do not let them bring.”, which follows the tone of the nation’s Three Non-Nuclear Principles.
If educational institutions kick out the technology, then it will eventually become individual household’s responsibility to discuss and think of how to use the technology. That seems like a challenge, as I encountered difficulties to follow what children spoke of during the research. I personally would hope to see something in line with this for a change: Here a history teacher in Massachusetts utilizes mobile phones for his class, the message seems quite different from the government here in Japan.