Enough evidence to show links to anxiety, decreased job productivity, says expert.
CYBERJAYA: A 14-year-old boy loved gaming so much that he did not leave his home for half a year until his parents hauled him to therapy for Internet addiction.
This sounds like a story that happens in Japan, China or South Korea, where teenagers have died from binging on their computers. But this case happened right here in Kuala Lumpur.
At the International Society of Internet Addiction (Isia) Conference here, researchers said they were most worried that Malaysian youth were increasingly using the Internet in excess, with local studies revealing that 37% of Malaysian parents felt their children’s online life was interfering with their home and school obligations while 18% said their children were sacrificing basic social activities.
The research, led by child psychologist and Isia spokesperson Dr Norharlina Bahar, found that males under the age of 24, from the Klang Valley, Ipoh or Penang, were the most susceptible to Internet addiction in Malaysia.
“Most spend time on online games and browsing social media and there is enough evidence to show links to anxiety, depression, physical health problems, school disconnection, unemployment, decreased job productivity and social isolation,” she said.
Studies have also found frequent use of the Internet could translate to low self-esteem, depression, boredom and attention-deficit hyperactive disorder.
“There is no denying that Internet eases our life but when it affects your mental health capacity and interferes with your day-to-day work, then you need help,” she added.
In the case of the young boy, Dr Norharlina said he became irritable and angry when he was cut off from the digital world by his parents as part of the treatment.
“This is becoming a bigger problem now,” she said.
The challenge for the academic community is translating their data into tangible policies, as definitions of Internet addiction are still being worked out, she added.
That is something the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) is seeking to address, by adapting research on Internet addiction into guidelines that can be used by school counsellors or parents to identify addiction in adolescents, said MCMC advocacy and outreach senior director Eneng Faridah Iskandar.
“We want to know when is usage going to be a problem. When should I start regulating my child’s use of the Internet? We want to develop self-help tips that parents can use,” she said.
The conference was attended by 200 researchers and psychologists from 10 countries to present their findings on Internet wellness and discuss policies to address the effects of the digital world on users’ health.
Asians one of the most addicted to the Internet
CYBERJAYA: The Middle East, North America and Asia have the highest number of people addicted to the Internet, said Hong Kong University (HKU) Psychology. Department Associate Dean Prof. Dr Cecelia Cheng.
Dr. Cheng, who presented the findings of a HKU study on Thursday said that findings suggest that the more a country experiences traffic jams, air pollution and low life satisfaction, the more likely its citizens will be addicted to the Internet.
She added that out of 31 countries surveyed, European and South American nations had the smallest number of people addicted to the Internet. “Basically if the life satisfaction of a country is low, the people in that country are more likely to be addicted to the Internet, particularly gaming,” she said.
Speaking at the International Society of Internet Addiction (ISIA) conference here, Dr Cheng added that there was a link between countries that have high levels of air pollution and Internet addiction.
“The study suggests that the problem of Internet addiction could be linked with the external environment that drives people indoors. Low life satisfaction also suggests that people look to the Internet for escapism when they are dissatisfied with the outside world,” she said.
Dr Cheng pointed out that less people are addicted to the Internet in Europe because pollution and crime rates are generally lower.
“In Europe, and people there can afford to engage in more outdoor activities than those in the Middle East and Asia,” she said.
She added that improving the quality of environmental conditions might encourage residents to engage more in outdoor activities rather than relying solely on browsing the Internet at home for stress relief.
Malaysia was not surveyed in the HKU study, but local authorities suggested that Internet addiction was a rising trend here too. According to the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), 50.4% of children already have a smartphone by the age of 12 and Malaysians have a 100.4% penetration rate for Internet connectivity and a 143% penetration rate for cellular use.
An ISIA study led by Dr Norharlina Bahar also found that the prevalence of problematic Internet users in Malaysia could be as high as 49.2%, with people spending at least five-hours in front of screens daily.
In last year’s World Happiness Index which measures a country’s general wellbeing, Malaysia ranked 61 out of 161 countries, behind Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines.
By Nicholas Cheng The Star/ANN
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