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updated 9:39 AM UTC, May 27, 2017
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The Bowed Head Clan

Raise your hand if you answered “yes” to three or more of the questions on the left. Congratulations. According to the fount of all knowledge that is The People’s Daily, you are now officially a part of the “bowed head clan” (低头族).

Two recent cases highlight the severity of the smartphone addiction problem at hand.

Last October, a 2-year-old girl from Yueyang in Hunan province, was struck and killed by a car as she was walking in front of her mother, who did not notice since she was staring at her smartphone.

In January of this year, at the “Spa World” pool in Xiangyang, Shaanxi province, security cameras caught a mother so engrossed in her mobile that she neglected her 4-year-old son struggling in the water behind her. 3 minutes later, the young boy had drowned.

In recent years, the number of adolescent Internet users has exploded. Particularly striking in China, those younger than 25 comprise 46 percent of total users. The Internet has created a new communication tool, particularly for young people whose use of instant messaging, social networking sites, video sites, e-mail, chat rooms and webcams, among others, are explosively escalating worldwide.

With the widespread use of the Internet, the attendant risks are also increasingly prominent. The rapid growth of Internet communication tools used by youngsters puts them at heightened risk for victimisation, such as cyber abuse. Anyone can fall victim anywhere; it is essential that social workers understand, accept, and acknowledge the Internet and communication tools as a viable and real means of relating to children and youth in order to keep them safe and healthy.

Each and every invention has brought comfort as well as threat. The same is the case with mobile phone technology. Psychiatrists proclaim that in the 21st century, smartphone addiction has become one of the major non-drug addictions. Addicts suffer social isolation and economic loss, while more and more teens are becoming addicted to smart phones at the expense of real relationships and success in other areas of their lives. Some of the major symptoms of Internet addiction are listed as depression, fainting, muscle weakness and anorexia, as well as the obvious preoccupation with the Internet.

Yet, using smart devices for a limited amount of time is not problematic. However, if a user becomes dependent on technology, it may have negative consequences. At Nanjing International School (NIS), this issue became apparent when students themselves recognised that tech use was becoming a problem. They could see that they were walking around stuck to their phones. Recently, a new “Low Tech Initiative” has been put in place whereby tech use in corridors is discouraged and users kindly reminded to pause and check their messages instead of floating down passageways in a tech cloud. Instead, a friendly greeting or smile is encouraged and feedback has been positive, according to Joe Barder, the school’s IT Director. Since the initiative has been started in response to a need from the students themselves, there has been a positive response.

An alternative viewpoint is found over at the British School of Nanjing, where it is believed that the biggest influence on a child’s habits etc., will be those around them. Therefore, teaching staff are advised to be good role models and to only use their own smart devices in the staff room and to remain “disconnected” during lessons. Tutor groups are organised “vertically” so that older students are alongside younger ones during registration time. Older students who own smartphones know that these devices must remain in their lockers and that they are not allowed to be used so as to set a good example for younger students. On all residential trips, there is also a strict “no device” policy in place. Headmaster Matthew Shepherd commented, “We aim for students to engage with the communities they work with (and each other!) and don’t believe this can be done from behind a screen or through a camera lens”.

Back at NIS, a science experiment in the school in January resulted in an evacuation when toxic fumes entered the ventilation system of the building. Well used to drills, the students trooped out leaving their belongings behind. When sent home without bags, cellphones or laptops, the initial sensation was one of euphoria. It was only later that students realised they did not know how to arrange to meet up, or spend the long hours of an entire day without their devices. Some even begged to be allowed back into school to pick up their iPhones.

CIU has become such a problem that Internet Addicition Clinicis are now popping up like mushrooms from New York to Algeria to Daxing, where teens are treated for their inability to control Compulsive Internet Use. Some of the treatment has raised concern over the welfare of the interns, with one such institution in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, being investigated after a 15 year old boy was beaten to death the day after his arrival, according to an ABC news story on 1st March, 2017. Such cases are not rare and it appears abuse in these institutions in China is widespread.

By helping each other to stop, smile and salute, and by taking more moments to make a space without tech to enjoy the simple things in life, we can help ease that which is a cross for the addict and those who love them.

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Nanjing

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