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South Korea Is Fighting “Digital Addiction”... Starting At Age Three
November 29, 2012
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If you own a smart phone, you might have felt addicted to it at some point: unable to look away, compulsively checking and rechecking for texts or emails, or throwing angry birds at things for hours at a time.

But loving your phone and spending a lot of time online isn't usually treated as a sickness.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, "internet addiction" doesn't qualify as a mental illness (although they do list "Internet Use Disorder" as meriting further study).

And for most of us, our "addiction" hasn't reached the point where we'd need professional help.

But South Korea's government sees digital addiction as a much more serious problem.

So, the government is putting programs in place to try to help young people (including kids as young as three) control their use of devices and the internet.

Kids between the ages of three and five will be taught to protect themselves from overusing digital devices and the internet.

They'll be taught more positive ways to use devices (like playing music), and learn "computer exercises" to prevent physical strain from using it so much.

There will also be fairy tales where a character falls prey to internet addiction, and lessons about games kids can play that don't involve their smart phones.

The new program will be put in place at kindergartens and pre-school institutions starting next year.

The government is also revising laws to make it mandatory to teach everyone from pre-school to high school about the dangers of digital addiction.

South Korea is one of the most connected countries on Earth. 98 per cent of households have broadband internet and nearly two thirds of people own a smart phone. There are even plans to digitize all textbooks in the country by 2015 and base schooling around tablet computers.

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According to government estimates, 2.55 million people in South Korea are addicted to smart phones, using them for eight hours or more a day.

About 2 million people are in government-sponsored counseling programs and psychological treatment because they can't stop playing online video games.

Some schools are taking matters into their own hands: at Chilbo elementary school in Suwon, South Korea, kids leave their smart phones in a basket at the beginning of the day, and picking them up when their classes are done.

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"Kids forget to eat lunch, completely absorbed with smart phones and some stayed in the classroom during a PED class," said sixth-grade teacher Han Jeoung-hee.

According to the National Information Society Agency, or NIA, about 160,000 South Korean kids between the ages of five and nine are addicted to the internet.

The agency says those kids "appear animated when using gadgets but distracted and nervous when they are cut off from the devices and will forgo eating or going to the toilet so they can continue playing online."

Related:

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