Japanese youngsters are getting so addicted to Internet-linked cellphones that the government is starting a program warning parents and schools to limit their use.
The government is worried about elementary and junior high school students getting sucked into cyberspace crimes, spending long hours exchanging mobile e-mails and suffering other negative effects of cellphone overuse, Masaharu Kuba, a government official overseeing the initiative, said yesterday.
“Japanese parents are giving cellphones to their children without giving it enough thought,” he said. “In Japan, cellphones have become an expensive toy.”
The recommendations were submitted by an education reform panel to Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda’s administration and approved this week.
The panel is also asking Japanese makers to develop cellphones with only the talk function and GPS, or global positioning system, a satellite-navigation feature that can help ensure a child’s safety.
Hiroya Masuda, the telecommunications minister, said yesterday that electronics makers must develop cellphones that are safe for children.
“The ministry will be naturally stepping up efforts to ask makers to develop phones with limited features,” he said on national TV.
About a third of Japanese sixth graders have cellphones, while 60 percent of ninth graders have them, the education ministry said.
Most mobile phones in Japan are sophisticated gadgets offering high-speed Internet access called 3G, for “third-generation,” allowing Japanese to do most everything that can be done on PCs on cellphones, including messaging, electronic shopping, social networking, Net searches and video games.
But the panel said better filtering programming is needed for Internet access to protect children.
Some youngsters are spending hours at night on e-mail with their friends. One fad 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.
Other youngsters have become victims of Internet crimes. In one case, children sent in their own snapshots to a Web site and then ended up getting threatened for money, Kuba said.
Cellphones tend to be more personal tools than personal computers. Parents find that what their children are doing with them are increasingly difficult to monitor, Kuba said.
Some Japanese children commute long distances by trains and buses to schools and cram schools and parents rely on cellphones to keep in touch with their children.