Singapore is taking the lead in tackling the new illness of Internet addiction, by bringing psychologists into schools to educate children and parents in the risks of spending too much time online.
Doctors in public and private sectors have confirmed that Net addiction is a growing problem amongst schoolchildren. The Singapore government now sees between 20 and 30 cases a year, while private psychiatrists see up to 50 cases annually.
"This is part and parcel of the way in which modern technological toys have replaced traditional forms of entertainment," said John Carr, Internet consultant at NCH Action for Children. "If there is a greater tendency for it to encourage addiction and withdrawal, we should look into it."
A group of psychiatrists from the Mount Elizabeth-Charter Behavioural Health Services have been touring secondary schools in Singapore to educate children and parents in the symptoms and dangers of Internet addiction.
According to their research, the psychological affects of Net addiction are comparable with drug or alcohol abuse. A true addict will lose sleep because of the extreme amount of time that he spends online. He will neglect his studies, and withdraw from relationships with families and friends.
In severe cases, addicts will spend up to 20 hours a day surfing the Net. This can lead them to become so far removed from real life, that they can start to have suicidal thoughts, according to Dr Tan Chue Tin, a consultant psychiatrist at Mount Elizabeth Hospital. He estimates that 10 to 15 percent of student addicts in Singapore entertain notions of attempting suicide.
The growing prevalence of Net addiction has led psychologists to accept it as a medical condition, but the phenomenon is still very new. To date there has been no British research published on the issue, and a recent American study concluded that people who become addicted to the Internet already have addictive personalities.
"The Internet is a neutral technology -- it has a zero impact upon people as it's a matter of choice and opinion in how people use the technology," argues Vittorio DiMartino, senior advisor in innovation and organisational well-being at the International Labour Organisation.
He points out that when a child starts to spend an obsessive amount of time online, they are trying to compensate for something, such as a lack of attention.
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