With children as young as first and second graders getting hooked on the Internet, Internet addiction is becoming a social problem that needs more public awareness, as well as government action, the Consumers’ Foundation said yesterday.
“Just weeks ago the news broke that an 18-year-old son addicted to online games threatened his father with a knife because the Internet was not functioning properly,” said Chen Chih-yi (陳智義), publisher of the foundation’s Consumer Reports Magazine. “This is not an isolated case. Young people acting violently because of their addiction to the Internet are hogging the headlines both in Taiwan and abroad.”
Wang Chih-hung (王智弘), a professor of Guidance and Counseling at National Changhua University of Education and a member of the Taiwan Internet Addiction Net Research Team (TIAN-team), found through research with his team that while the estimated rate of first graders addicted to the Internet is 3 percent, the number makes a giant leap to 16.2 percent when it comes to eight-year-old second graders.
“The rate among children in the third grade to sixth grade is 18.8 percent, among junior and senior-high school students it is 20.2 percent and among university students it is 20.3 percent,” Wang said, adding that the research team had set a higher standard for university students, which explains the relatively unchanged rate from the one among high-school students.
“The latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders released by the American Psychiatric Association has ‘Internet use disorder’ added to the list,” Wang said.
“Pathological Internet use symptoms include, but are not limited to, increased time spent on online activities, feeling distressed or irritated if the Internet is not available, neglecting important daily tasks such as school, work or spending time with friends or family to spend time online, and deceiving others about activities or time spent online,” he added.
Wang urged parents who have observed any of these symptoms in their children to seek professional assistance, as “unilateral, drastic measures such as smashing computers, as some parents reportedly did, rarely help achieve the anticipated outcome.”
“What is really at stake is getting to understand addicted people’s hidden psychological troubles, such as depression or anxiety resulting from real-life pressure, and to reconnect them with reality with a well-planned schedule for limited Internet use and more outdoor activities,” Wang said.
The role of the government is also crucial, Wang said, adding that the South Korean government has established a “Jump Up Internet Rescue School” to help addicted children and youths, and has initiated a number of psychological treatment centers for those suffering from the addiction.
Consumers’ Foundation chairman Mark Chang (張智剛) emphasized corporate social responsibility, saying that just as a health surcharge has been levied on cigarettes to help cover smoking-related health costs, Internet companies are likewise expected to play a role in solving the problem.