Smartphone addiction biggest risk to young

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Smartphone addiction biggest risk to young

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With almost 72 percent of the Korean population using smartphones, a government study yesterday said children and teenagers are at the greatest risk of addiction out of all age groups.

The study put teenagers’ addiction risk at 25.5 percent, more than double the average of 11.8 percent last year.

The government surveyed 15,600 smartphone users aged 10 to 54. In a bid to alleviate and prevent further smartphone addiction, eight government ministries yesterday announced a set of measures to add addiction treatment programs and extend free smartphone software that blocks harmful information.

Last year, 2.4 percent of children were at high risk, down 0.3 percentage point from 2012 the previous year, but higher than the 1.3 percent average that includes all age groups.

The study differentiated high risk from potential risk, which is an early phase with symptoms such as anxiety over the absence of smartphone.

“When it comes to smartphones, such a tendency [children’s addiction] is more of an urgent problem. Not just government-led but a collective effort needs to be made from school to home and society in general,” said Kang Seong-ju, director-general of the Convergence Policy Bureau of the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning.

The ministry said it will triple the number of lectures and small-group discussion programs led by addiction experts to reach 400,000 students from kindergarten to high school.

Particularly for children in kindergarten and lower elementary grades, the ministry will establish cultural education and physical activity based programs.

In addition, the ministry said it will upgrade functions and extend the distribution of monitoring mobile apps, which block and filter harmful information, to more teenagers’ smartphones.

Because teenagers appeared to spend a significant portion of time playing mobile games, the ministry said it will keep pushing the “gaming shutdown policy,” a teen-specific initiative of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family to prevent youngsters below age 16 from playing games past midnight.

The policy is being reviewed to determine whether or not to include mobile games.

However, uncertainties arose around the suggested measures in terms of effectiveness and economic impact, not just from experts in the area but also inside the ministry.

Lee Chang-ho, research fellow at the National Youth Policy Institute, said more teenagers nowadays are exposed to the risk of gaming addiction as mobile games have become popular, giving wider and easier access to games via small mobile devices.

Lee cited the trend as a reason why extending shutdown policy to mobile games is not an effective choice, because increasing numbers of teenagers now find games as a means of relieving stress caused by academic pressure. He contended that the addiction reduction initiative should begin with teenagers themselves by campaigning to find better alternatives to dealing with stress.

Park Moon-soo, research fellow at Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade, also said that regulation should not be considered an ultimate way to curve addiction, and rather would slow the rigorous growth trend of the local mobile game industry.

BY KIM JI-YOON [jiyoon.kim@joongang.co.kr]


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