(L) Japan: Smartphone addiction spreads to younger set

Kuchikomi Feb. 29, 2016


Cases of Internet addiction severe enough to require medical intervention had previously been most common among youths in their late teens to their early 20s. But Yukan Fuji (Feb 21) reports that due to the growing number of elementary school students owning smartphones, these problems have been cropping up among children from increasingly earlier ages. Some therapists are starting to voice concerns that they may be a growing factor in children’s refusal to attend school or health-related problems.

Those determined to be pathologically addicted to a smartphone, personal computer or video game unit may wind up at the National Hospital Organization’s Kurihama Medical Addiction Center in Yokosuka City. Seventy to 80% of those seeking therapy at this facility are said to range from middle school to university age.

“More recently, we’ve been treating more elementary school students,” remarked the center’s director, Dr Susumu Higuchi. Among the conditions related to addiction are Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and depression.

The Seijo Sumioka Clinic in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward also says more of its young patients have diagnosed with Internet addiction. The 285 it treated in 2013 represented a 3.5-fold increase over the previous six years. The average age of such patients is 17.8 years, with the youngest treated only 10 years old.

Clinic head Dr Takashi Sumioka observes that belonging to an SNS can be a source of anxiety over a perceived need to be in constant contact with other members.

According to data from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, in 2013, about one elementary school student in three owned a cell phone, up from around 20% in 2010.  In a survey conducted in 2014, those in the 10-19 year age segment were found to spend the most time using their smartphones, for an average of 3 hours, 15 minutes per day on weekends—the highest usage among all age segments.

Dr Sumioka mentions the case of one patient, a 27-year-old woman, who became addicted to the Internet from the first year of middle school. Except while in the bath or toilet, she constantly played games or chatted. When she stopped attending school she was helped by a sympathetic teacher, but like alcoholism or drugs, it’s exceedingly difficult to rid oneself of Internet addiction unless a person first recognizes that he or she has a serious problem.

“We’ve been getting more consultations by parents who tell us, ‘We’re worried because our child can’t seem to stop poking his or her cell phone,’” says Miki Endo, director of the NGO Angel Eyes, which was set up to deal proactively with such problems as Internet addiction. “They start worrying that the kids are addicted after noticing that their child’s vision had become weaker, or that they complained of stiff shoulders, or that the child flew into hysterics when the parent scolded them for using the phone too much.

“One of the things we warn the parents is that a child may observe his or her own parent using a smart phone, such as chatting via the Line application, and then start imitating them, which plays a part in their eventually becoming addicted,” Endo told Yukan Fuji.