23 July 2019
There is nothing wrong with using the internet or electronic products. But we must not let ourselves or our children become addicted to them. Photo: AFP
There is nothing wrong with using the internet or electronic products. But we must not let ourselves or our children become addicted to them. Photo: AFP

Time to do something about teenage internet addiction

In his latest budget, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po announced that he would earmark HK$100 million for Cyberport to promote the local e-sports industry.

Secretary for Innovation and Technology Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung also vowed to facilitate the development of e-sports in Hong Kong.

While e-sports appears to be gaining favor with top government officials, a recent report published by the Department of Health on the health effects of the internet and digital products has renewed public concern about this rapidly growing phenomenon.

Internet addiction among teenagers has already become a cause for concern on a global scale.

To combat the growing epidemic of internet addiction, the World Health Organization is going to review the International Classification of Diseases later this year and officially categorize “gaming disorder” as a disease.

Online games and mobile gaming apps have been all the rage among students in the city. To understand their implications for local teenagers, the Department of Health, from 2014 to 2017, carried out a comprehensive study on the health effects of the internet and electronic screen products.

According to the findings of the study, the percentage of local primary school students spending more than three hours on the internet daily soared from just 3.2 percent in 2014 to 13.1 percent in 2017, a more than three-fold jump.

As far as secondary school students are concerned, 33.9 percent said they spent over three hours a day on the internet in 2017, up from 30.3 percent in 2014.

As we all may know, spending too much time surfing the internet or playing video games is bad for the eyes and the neck. But the adverse effects of internet addiction actually go way beyond blurred vision and neck pain: it could take a heavy toll on people’s mental health and their normal daily lives.

According to the health department’s study, the percentage of primary and secondary school students having arguments with their parents over the use of the internet as well as the percentage of those reducing their sleeping time to play online games were up 11.5 percent and 10.2 percent respectively over the 2014-2017 period.

More than 30 percent of primary school pupils admitted that they had given up outdoor activities because of their addiction to playing online or video games.

In many cases, these kids often stay in their bedrooms playing online games for days on end and have no normal social life. As a result, many of them have become increasingly self-centered and cut off from the outside world.

Quite a lot of cases have already indicated that students who are introverted, have low self-esteem and estranged from their parents are often more predisposed to internet addiction.

Whenever these kids come under stress, they would often turn to online games or the internet rather than family members to let off steam or seek emotional refuge.

And the more heavily they are addicted to the internet, the more likely they would come into conflict with their parents, thereby leading to a vicious circle in their family relationship.

As such, it is definitely time for us to take the issue of teenage internet addiction and its negative implications for the individual, family and society seriously.

In particular, parents should set an example to their children by avoiding spending too much time on the internet or other IT gadgets themselves.

If necessary, parents and their kids can come to an agreement to limit the time they spend on the internet or online/video games.

Parents should encourage their children to develop interest in sports and other outdoor activities.

Schools should step up their efforts at educating students about how to manage their time properly and the importance of living a healthy lifestyle.

Schools should allow students more access to different types of sports and extra-curricular activities during physical education lessons or after school.

There is nothing wrong with using the internet or electronic products. However, we must not let ourselves or our kids get addicted to them, as these products are supposed to make our lives easier rather than dominate our lives.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 15

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Legislative councilor and head of nursing and health studies in the Open University of Hong Kong

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