Group of friends having fun and looking at photos

Singapore teens are among the most Internet-savvy in the world. Statistics from the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore show that 99% of teenagers used the Internet in 2014. Their favourite mobile activities are social networking on platforms like Instagram, instant messaging via apps like Snapchat, and sending and receiving emails.

Online activities are enjoyable, so it is easy to spend long hours on the computer. It is normal for your child to want to spend more time on activities that fascinate them, and these interests are often good outlets for learning, creativity and self-expression.

But when any activity becomes the major focus of their life — to the point where it becomes harmful physically, mentally or socially — your child may have a cyber addiction problem. A 2010 study[1] led by the National Institute of Education and the Media Development Authority found that Singaporean youth spend more time than American adolescents on video gaming — averaging 20 hours a week, compared to 13 hours for their American counterparts. The same study revealed that nearly 9% of young people in Singapore are “pathological gamers” who spend 37.5 hours each week playing video games — double the time that non-addicts spend.

Mother with son and daughter playing with smartphone

The National Addictions Management Service (NAMS) at the Institute of Mental Health says that while there is nothing wrong with computers and technology, users have to be aware of their potentially addictive nature and set appropriate limits to prevent online activities from becoming a problem.

In its Resource booklet on Excessive Internet Use, NAMS highlights some tell-tale signs:

  • Your child is spending increasing periods gaming or on the Internet before he/she is satisfied;
  • He/she becomes irritable or even violent if gaming or Internet usage is disallowed;
  • The excessive amounts of time on gaming or the Internet is affecting his/her academic performance and health;
  • He/she forgoes social events or replaces hobbies with cyber gaming or online activities;
  • Even if your child wants to curb his/her gaming or online activities, he/she is unable to do so for a sustained period of time.

NAMS outlines in the resource booklet helpful tools for parents to help their children manage their Internet use. These include identifying specific behaviours that need to be addressed, and pairing them with corresponding rewards; discussing and agreeing on scheduled activities for the week, including Internet and gaming time; as well as creating simple “to-do” lists to limit computer usage.

Here are some useful tips for parents:

Related: Screen Time

1. Practise What You Preach

Mother distracted by phone while playing with her daughter

Are you guilty of being glued to the mobile phone or gaming device? Be aware of the behaviour you’re modelling to your children. Put that gadget away and get the family playing some good ole board games, or whip up a meal together. Plan an active weekend for the kids with these ideas. If there’s a good TV show, tune in together and talk about it later — “Descendants of the Sun”, anyone?

Related: Disconnect To Reconnect — Why A Social Media Detox Might Be Good For You

2. Have Control

Young kids huddling around and playing on the phone

You’re the parent so you’re in charge. Don’t yield control of the Internet and electronic devices over to your child. Look into installing parental control software that can block or limit usage. Oh, and hang on to that Wi-Fi password, and make sure never to grant unlimited data to the offspring’s mobile plan.

Related: 9 Health Hazards of Electronic Devices for Kids

3. Be Understanding

Mother and daughter enjoying each other's company

Step into the shoes of your teens. Their world is vastly different from yours — when kids used to hang out on soccer fields or were out “catching spiders”. Understand that teens want to feel belonged and may feel pressure to keep up with their peers on their online “life”. Negotiate appropriate time periods to be online and be firm implementing these rules.

Related: Dealing with Cyber-Bullies

4. Be Alert to Danger

Parents looking at their daughter drawing on the tablet

The perennial advice of keeping the computer in the living room still applies but with laptops that might be difficult to enforce. Think of keeping Wi-Fi signals strongest in the living room to make it the most attractive place to surf from. Conduct frequent, random checks on web browsing history but be upfront about it. (Of course, kids are so Internet savvy these days, they’ll find a solution quickly, so the onus is on the parents to stay savvy too!)

Related: It Is Best Your Child Hears It From You

5. Set Realistic Rules

Parents looking at their children playing on the ipad

Don’t expect your kid to wean off his/her cyber habits overnight. After you’ve set realistic rules and laid out the consequences, be prepared to implement them.

For severe cases of cyber gaming, NAMS offers the Internet Gaming Day Group[2] that helps teens aged 13 to 18 to wean off excess video gaming through eight sessions of group counselling. For advice and information on cyber-addiction, call NAMS at 6389 2200 to make an appointment or the All Addictions Helpline at 6-RECOVER (6-7326837) to find out more.


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References

  1. Choo, H., Gentile, D. A., Sim, T., Li, D., Khoo, A., Liau, A. K. (Date). Pathological video-gaming among Singaporean youth. Annals Academy of Medicine, 39(11), 822-829.
    Retrieved March 2016 from https://repository.nie.edu.sg/bitstream/10497/16240/1/AAM-3911-822_a.pdf

  2. National Addictions Management Service (NAMS) (n.d.). Unplug - Internet Gaming Day Group [Website].
    Retrieved March 2016 from http://www.nams.sg/programmes/Pages/Cybergaming-group.aspx