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Beware of digital addiction among kids

Students should learn to use digital technology wisely. They should be the master of technology and not let it control them.

Wired societies are currently struggling with the ill effects of technology addiction among the youth. Let’s take three examples: South Korea, Japan and the United States.

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South Korea

As the world’s most digitally connected society, nearly two-thirds of the population of South Korea own a smartphone and 98 percent of households have broadband Internet.

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A government survey showed that about 2.55 million people are addicted to smartphones, using the device for eight or more hours per day.

South Korea National Information Agency reports that about 160,000 children aged 5 to 9 are addicted to the Internet, accessed through smartphones, tablets or personal computers.

Associated Press technology writer Youkyung Lee describes how the digital lifestyle has taken its toll on kids.  She says a typical 11-year-old girl “sleeps with her android smartphone instead of a teddy bear.”

The first thing that the youngster’s eyes latch on when she wakes up is her smartphone. Her first task for the day is managing messages from friends.

The gadget has become a semipermanent appendage of her hand as it goes with her to the streets, the school and even the bathroom. Catastrophe means not having wireless Internet connection and a phone battery that is less than 20 percent full.

Kim Jun-hee, a kindergarten teacher for 10 years, carried out an eight-month survey on Internet addiction among preschool children. Early exposure to high-tech gadgets, she says, has made kids as young as 4 and 5 indifferent, fidgety and impulsive.

Kim teaches her students to take tech breaks such as resting the eyes and stretching. She tells them stories about Internet addiction and encourages them to play nondigital games.

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According to Kim, parent cooperation is vital, and the best way to teach the kids is for adults to set a good example.

Treatment

Several South Korean medical practitioners have chosen to treat digital addiction more as an illness rather than just a social problem. Lee Hae-koo, a psychiatry professor at Catholic University of Korea’s College of Medicine, says the country, along with Taiwan and China, is actively researching whether

Internet addiction should truly be diagnosed as a mental illness.

In 2010, the unsettling story of a

3-month-old baby girl who died from neglect stirred the hearts of South Koreans. The parents were avid gamers who were so engrossed with marathon online gaming that they fed their baby only once a day.

Some teachers in Seoul require students to surrender their gadgets when they get to school. The gadgets are returned to them at the end of classes.

The South Korean government intends to take proactive measures and now provides counselors for young people who are obsessed with online gaming or Internet use.

The Ministry of Public Administration and Security is studying the issue of compulsory instruction on the dangers of Internet addiction starting from preschool, with kids as young as 3.

Japan

Japan and the United States are following suit. More than half a million kids aged 12 to 18 in Japan are believed to be Internet addicts, so Japan’s Ministry of Education plans to create “fasting camps” where kids will have no access to computers, smartphones, gaming devices or the Internet.

“We want to get them out of the virtual world and to encourage them to have real communication with other children and adults,” ministry spokesperson Akifumi Sekine tells The Telegraph.

Children will be encouraged to do outdoor activities and, should the transition prove traumatic, they will have access to psychiatrists and psychotherapists.

US

In September, the Behavioral Health Services at Bradford Regional Medical Center in Pennsylvania opened the first Internet addiction clinic in the United States.

The voluntary, inpatient program lasts for 10 days. Patients refrain from using phones, tablets or the Net for at least three days. Therapy and educational sessions help them control their compulsion.

According to the program’s founder, US psychologist Kimberly Young, typical addicts are young, male, intelligent, “struggle socially” and have low self-esteem. Most are obsessed with games such as World of Warcraft.

“Like any other addiction, we look at whether it has jeopardized their career, whether they lie about their usage or whether it interferes with relationships,” Young tells “Good Morning, America.”

The program costs $14,000, which is not covered by insurance. Patients are trained to return eventually to computer use, but in a healthy way. The goal is not to completely turn away from computers (which is impossible in today’s wired world), but to use them wisely.

Many Filipinos, particularly the youth, are also digital addicts. Parents, teachers and our government should address this problem before the majority of our youth fall into the gadget trap like their South Korean and Japanese counterparts.

E-mail the author at blessbook@yahoo.com.

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TAGS: Children, digital addiction, Learning
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