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Saving children from Internet addiction


“Ms B” is a 20-year-old Tokyo college student who lives on the Internet. First thing on opening her eyes in the morning – if she’s been to bed – she grabs her smartphone. What are her friends up to on Line, on Twitter?

That’s basically the story of her life. Her body may be in non-virtual space – in class, at the dinner table – but her mind is online from waking to sleeping. Sometimes there is no sleeping. There’s always someone to contact through the small hours: “What’s happening? What’re you doing?”

“I’m sometimes at it for three nights running,” she tells Aera (Sept 2).

She doesn’t consider herself “Internet dependent.” Very few of those Japan’s health ministry tentatively regards as being in that condition do. Still, “It gets to be a problem sometimes,” she admits – a rare and significant acknowledgment.

Last month, the health ministry released a report that, based on questionnaires sent to 264 schools nationwide, estimates 6% of junior high school student and 9% of senior high schoolers are in a state of “Internet dependency.” That’s roughly 518,000 teenagers, nationwide. Factor in the number of “borderline dependents” and the number rises to perhaps 800,000.

What is Internet dependency? A rigorous definition has yet to be devised. The ministry’s survey comprised eight questions, for example, “If you find you’ve left your cell phone at home, would you go back for it even if it meant being late for school?” “Do you use your cell phone while eating or bathing?” “Is your mind on your cell phone during class?” “Does your cell phone give you your only real pleasure in life?” and so on. A “yes” answer to even one question is considered a danger signal. How many yes answers put you over the line is not specified. Ms B, for her part, figures she sends something like 100 messages a day.

The Kurihama Treatment Center in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, counsels Internet dependents on an outpatient basis. Most of the patients are teenagers. Few come on their own. Their worried parents drag them. “Some of these kids can’t even attend school,” Aera hears from Dr Hidenori Nakayama. “In some cases, a parent will confiscate the child’s cell phone. The kid runs off to an Internet cafe, sometimes to be taken into custody for failing to pay for a meal.” That’s extreme and rare – but being late for class, or sleeping through class after having been up all night with the smartphone, is apparently not unusual.

Internet overuse – again, not rigorously defined – has been something of a problem ever since the Internet first came into our lives. It was the advent of the smartphone that turned it into a quasi-epidemic. If a kid is parked in front of a computer screen for hours on end, at least the parents are likely to know about it. Not so with a smartphone taken to bed. That pretty much escapes adult control.

“At this point,” says Aera, “the Internet is so much a part of our lives that it’s impossible to get along without it. Without imposing arbitrary limits, parents must teach their children disciplined use.” Easier said than done.

© Japan Today

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

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I went through Singapore en-route to Japan not long ago and went into a cafe to chill for a while, and my wife and I were bemused to see the cafe full of people around that age, many whom looked as though they were on a date, sitting with their partner staring at their smart phone. It was bizarre.

Then, more recently, one of my oldest friends who has always been very outdoorsy, practical and active and a long term surf partner of mine, went overseas hiking where he met a bunch of younger folk and befriended many of them, who insisted the only way to keep in contact was via Facebook, so he signed up having resisted to this point. The result? A guy suddenly commanded by his smartphone. He can't put it down, the thing constantly goes off and it constantly and incessantly interrupts basic, face to face human contact like a cancerous web denizen. It's truly bizarre to watch.

Basic social skills are being forgotten, or never learnt.

The world is becoming rude.

15 ( +16 / -1 )

This whole 'smart' phone thing has become ridiculous. It is a sickness. I can't even stand to be around some friends anymore. That is ALL they do.

10 ( +11 / -1 )

I know a doctor in the US who tells me it's become fairly common for patients to take calls on their cell phones while he's examining them. He tolerates it, because 1) he's sympathetic for working people, who have it rough; and 2) he's not doing that well himself due to the vagaries of the US health insurance system, which is seeing clinics like his go under at a fearsome rate.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I am starting to detest those things. The other day I met a young man who would be under my supervision for a short course. When I was being introduced to him, he was gazing at his smartphone and only looked up briefly to say hello. The rest of the day was more of the same. When we parted he was still doing it! I bet you anything he wouldn't recognize me if he met me on the street, even though we spent a whole day working together. When did it become acceptable to do that? If he was reading a book people would think he was strange, all right.

Another thing I hate is when people disembark the train and then immediately stop on the crowded platform, staring into their smartphones as if searching for directions (which they probably are). Get out of my way, you idiots!

8 ( +9 / -1 )

The only goodside of having a smartphone handy is when searching future fun places and making reservations on the spot. Otherwise, "click" swith-off !! Back to real emotions and intellectual human conversations.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

I know a doctor in the US who tells me it's become fairly common for patients to take calls on their cell phones while he's examining them.

I had an even stranger experience with a chiropractor here in Japan. During the session, when she was working on my neck, she kept dashing out of the room to check her smartphone! Later on she apologized and explained that her elderly parents were in the middle of a house move and she needed to be in constant contact with them. When I heard that I didn't really mind, but still it was a very distracting experience and my neck wasn't happy. Not to mention just plain rude to a client. Never going back there again.

2 ( +7 / -5 )

Tessa@you and I are clearly in accord on this, so let me relate to you what saddens me more than anything else these days. It's to see Japanese parents ignoring their young children while they text or play games on their cell phones. I see young mothers absorbed in the screens while they push prams across the street, oblivious to traffic. And likewise while riding bicycles, in restaurants, aboard trains, etc. The other day, watching a mother of two doing this, I exclaimed, Oi, okusan, keitai asobi wo yamete, kodomo no koto wo minasai! (Quit playing with your phone and look after your children!). She completely ignored me (along with ignoring her two kids), but a middle-aged man nearby overheard what I said and nodded his full approval at my remark.

8 ( +10 / -2 )


Yep. Once saw a liitle boy get his head stuck between the metal bars of a fence while his mother sat only a couple of meters away engrossed in her smartphone, completely oblivious. My foreign date - who rescued the kid - was absolutely horrified!

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Blah blah blah. Saving the children? What about us?

4 ( +5 / -1 )

As an adult you should be in control yourself and teach your kids accordingly. The internet don't control my life nor my family.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Oh, no. I'm reading this on a beach on my smartphone.

9 ( +12 / -3 )

Children? Hey I'm age 23 and I know I have an internet problem..it took me 2 long years (after 7 years) to manage to quit playing MMOs!! I regained some (actually a lot) hours of my time but still in the morning (like right now) I HAVE TO log in and check what the world has been up to, see fb, twitter, email,...it is noon already! I don't have a smartphone- and I will never have, those things are evil and will make me plugged online 24hrs and no thank you!! I have a computer and a lappy, that's more than enough. I need time offline..and I need more time offline because as a uni student my life was practically online..online friends, online activities..meh! Thing is, I do miss my online friends as well I don't have many friends from my country because few people were brought up like me and if I don't go out partying I don't get any friends in here heh.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

My smartphone is funner than most regular conversations. Good company is hard to find around here.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Yayyy - I read in PC Magazine (another addiction) that someone has developed a device that administers an electric shock after an internet user has spent some amount of time on any site. It's just a goofy demonstration of the capabilities using an Arduino, but might be the just treatment needed to de-condition addicts. (Not for smartphones... so far).

1 ( +1 / -0 )

What constitutes smart phone addiction? I often read news and search when I want to look up some information. I rarely use the phone to call people but do send mail and reply to them. I don't do gaming on my phone or PC. I carry the phone wherever I go but am not constantly looking at it unless it rings. I turn it off during a movie. Where do I stand?

2 ( +3 / -1 )

There are also a lot of kids who have serious problems with computer games. It is very sad to see the at the park sitting on benches with their heads down playing. Do we need to have computer game parks? Sad. But it doesn't only apply to Japan.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

A few months ago, I felt very sad when I was in a restaurant and I saw an old man around 75-80 years old sitting with his son probably around 30+ having dinner. There was no conversation at all from the beginning till the end of the meal. The old man was slowly eating while the son was busy with the mobile phone. His eyes were on the mobile phone all the time more than on the foods or father.

Not a single word was spoken throughout the meal...... even until the moment both of them walking out of the restaurant, the younger man was still busy with his cellphone.....

from then onwards, I told my son, I do not like to see any electronic device on the table during meal times or it will be confiscated and slammed on the floor (which until now, works for me fine).......

what has this world become? wireless means speechless ......???

5 ( +5 / -0 )

iskysong. It seems to be an addiction like gambling or drugs. It destroys relationships. The situation you described is very sad but unfortunately very common these days.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The second people get on the train, they pull out their phones. They are walking and not looking where they are going, their eyes glued to their phones. Go to a restaurant and look at the couples and/or groups sitting with one another but constantly on the phone. Are these people zombies? It has become ridiculous. Look at this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OINa46HeWg8

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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