14% of schoolkids are addicted to smartphones

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14% of schoolkids are addicted to smartphones


Lee Yeong-han, 13, is never separated from his smartphone. Even during his seventh grade classes, he fiddles with it secretly under his desk.

“I get kind of frantic,” Lee admits, “if I can’t check my text messages.”

Lee gets so strung out without his smartphone that he carries a spare battery and a charger so he’s never out of juice. And he uses so many functions, the battery runs out fast.

“A completely charged battery does not last me even half a day,” he says.

Young Lee is an addict, and there are more and more kids like him. According to a recent government study, the rate of smartphone addiction in youths is more than twice as high as that of Internet addiction.

Some 14 percent of young Koreans are addicted to some extent to smartphones according to a study of 1.7 million students in elementary, middle and high school conducted by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family.

The survey was carried out between May and June on 475,000 fourth-graders, 599,000 seventh-graders and 646,000 10th-graders in 11,774 primary and secondary schools nationwide.

In contrast, the study showed 6 percent of youths were addicted to the Internet.

According to the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning, 64.5 percent of teens now have smartphones, up from 21.4 percent in 2011.

The breakdown of smartphone addiction was 3.7 percent among elementary students surveyed, 19.8 percent of middle school students and 23.2 percent of high-schoolers.

For Internet addiction, the breakdown was more even, with 4 percent of elementary students, 7.4 percent of middle-schoolers and 7.2 percent of high-schoolers.

This was the first time the ministry conducted a survey on youth smartphone addiction.

Of the 240,000 students who showed signs of smartphone addiction, 40,000 were classified as being high-risk addicts, or 17 percent of total addicts. High-risk addicts were classified by the survey as those who show nervousness, agitation or other withdrawal symptoms when not able to use a smartphone. Those with lesser risk addiction demonstrated some obsessive behavior related to their smartphones.

Of the Internet addicts, 11 percent were classified as high risk.

The ministry said it plans to develop counseling programs for smartphone addiction by the end of the year to be available at 198 youth centers and 179 clinics nationwide. For rural areas without access to such clinics and centers, they will dispatch counselors to schools.

BY SARAH KIM, JANG JU-YOUNG [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]
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