Parents find a cure for the Internet: Family time
According to the KT Cultural Foundation, one of every four adolescents in Korea is addicted to the Internet. That number no doubt rises during summer vacations.
What’s a parent to do?
They can follow the example of Yim Nam-sun, 39. Ms. Yim is the mother of Hi-beom, 12, and Hi-seong, 11, two boys who these days play computer games for only 90 minutes over the weekend; the rest of the time, they can only use the Internet for research and homework. That’s quite an achievement, given that six months ago, they played games every night until the early morning and fought each other over who got to use the Internet.
Ms. Yim’s boys were what the foundation calls “Internet addicts.” They would come home from school, immediately shut their door and turn on the computer. As they got older, the amount of time they spent using the Internet increased, but Ms. Yim said she thought it was typical of children their age.
One time early this year, she said, she woke up in the middle of night and realized that the light was still on in her children’s room, even though it was after 3 a.m. She opened the door and peeked in ― her children were sitting in front of the computer. “They didn’t even notice that I was watching,” she said. At first, she was shocked. But then she remembered that the boys had always seemed tired every morning. She woke up her husband, who went to the room. The boys had turned the computer off and were pretending that they were reading. The father touched the computer; it was still warm.
“As soon as I see a computer, my hands just touch it,” Hi-beom said. “Once I start playing a game, I can’t help myself, I just keep playing it.” Ms. Yim said that was when she realized that her children might be addicted to computer games. The next day, she started observing her children, to see how often they used the Internet. Things that she took casually suddenly looked very serious. Even before school exams, Hi-seong would run to the computer whenever he had the chance. Hi-beom would also latch himself to the screen, saying, “I’ll just play for 30 minutes before I go to my after-school program.” He often missed the bus to the academy.
Yet what really bothered the couple was that their children had started lying about their computer use. When she came back from grocery shopping and asked if they were playing games, they shook their heads. Once again, though, the computer was warm to the touch. The brothers also had fights over who got to use the Internet.
When she said they could use the Internet only when they were given permission first, Hi-seong said to his older brother, “It’s because of you that I can’t play games anymore.” That accusation was quickly shot back. Seeing this, Ms. Yim realized she needed to do something more, and discussed with her husband what they could do to wean their children off the computer.
The father installed a blocking program in the computer to limit access to sites that might have adult content. The program was, in theory, able to limit the duration of Internet use.
Woe be it for a parent to assume that he or she knows more about computers than a child. Their younger son, Hi-seong, set to work cracking the blocking program and quickly discovered the program’s password. With Plan A a failure, Ms. Yim said she felt she had to turn to Plan B: physically restraining her boys from using the computer.
Whenever they turned on the computer, she sat down next to them. She allowed them to use it only for their homework and Internet searches. She made sure she had all her errands done before the children came home so she could supervise them. “It was difficult for all of us,” she said.
Once the boys stopped playing games, however, they found it even more difficult to concentrate. Being unable to play games at home, they simply went to their friend’s house and stayed there until late at night - they said they were doing homework with their friends. Often the parents of their friends would be at work and unable to supervise them. Ms. Yim realized that she could never force her kids to stop playing computer games.
The stick having broken, she tried the carrot. “It’d be more efficient for you to play with them than having me look after them all the time,” she told her husband. He agreed, and began to take the kids outside, have them read books and play outdoors.
Every weekend, the father took their children out and played baseball, basketball and soccer with them. The children brought their friends and formed teams, with their father acting as the referee.
In the evenings, the father would pick up a book and sit in the living room. Hi-beom liked to read and would imitate his father, and his younger brother slowly picked up the habit as well. They thought it would be better to read together, and so chose illustrated books that both adults and children could enjoy. That gave them something in common to talk about and ideas to discuss with each other.
The boys’ father then bought an “Internet lock,” which enables Internet access only when an actual, physical key is inserted into the computer. He was then able to give the boys limited amounts of time to play games or do online chatting. In the beginning, both of the boys were less than happy having to read books and play soccer instead of going online. They said reading and exercising was boring. The parents urged the children to be more patient. After a month, the children started to acclimate themselves back into the real world.
Six months later, they no longer beg their parents to use the Internet ― they’re too busy calling their friends to play soccer. They used to be pale because they stayed home all the time, but are now suntanned, giving them healthy dark complexions.
Hi-seong’s school grades have improved significantly. He used to have average grades; he’s now one of the top five students in his class. The brothers get along better. Their teachers also say that they have become more active and lively.
Other mothers often ask Ms. Yim what her secret was in weaning her children off of computer games. “There’s nothing special,” she says. “It’s not about preventing children from doing what they want to do, but about helping children find other things they can enjoy. Then they would realize it’s more fun to play with families and other children than to play alone.”
by Shin Eun-jin