Children Increasingly Falling Victim to Internet Addiction

More than 14 percent of children and adolescents aged between nine and 19 are addicted to the Internet and have difficulties leading a normal life, a survey shows.

According to a survey conducted in 2008 by the Korea Agency for Digital Opportunity and Promotion, 168,000 or 2.3 percent of children and adolescents over nine years old are serious Internet addicts and in need of treatment, and a further 12.1 percent or 867,000 are potential addicts who need counseling.

Another survey conducted last year by the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs found that 12,000 or 2 percent of fourth graders in the country are high-risk Internet addicts and 22,000 or 3.8 percent are potential addicts, showing that an increasing number of younger children are falling victim to the problem. "The reality is likely to be far more serious than the figures," said Seong Yoon-sook, a researcher at the National Youth Policy Institute.

Internet addiction is especially a problem among children who do not receive proper parental care. "In many cases, children from low-income, single-parent, or double-income families don't receive good parental guidance of their habits," said Kim Seong-byuk, a Health Ministry official.

Lee Hyung-cho, an expert in the field, said, "The government has helped more than 100,000 low-income families get computers and cover their Internet costs in order to help narrow the education gap. But the measure has ended up increasing the number of Internet addicts among children from those families, who lack parental control."

To detect the problem as early as possible the Health Ministry will test some 1.27 million fourth graders and first-year middle school students for Internet addiction this year. Next year it will begin annual testing of fourth graders, first-year middle school students, and high school freshman. Those found to be in need of counseling will be sent to local youth counseling centers, while high-risk addicts will receive treatment at mental health centers or clinics.

"Children of negligent or authoritarian parents are more prone to becoming addicted to the Internet," said Seong of the NYPI. "Parents should have frequent conversations with their children and raise them with consistent discipline." 

Lee Hyung-cho said, "Young Internet addicts also suffer depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. When their children begin using computers, parents should set rules on the use of the Internet, track which websites they are visiting, and install software to block harmful ones."

englishnews@chosun.com / Mar. 15, 2010 07:11 KST