“Sitting is the new smoking.”
That’s what a neighbor said to me the day I returned to full-time office work after an extended child-rearing hiatus.
Although I laughed at the time, that remark took root in my brain. Every day I’m baffled at how many hours slip by when I’m doing online research. I forget to stand up or sometimes even to eat lunch.
But a more accurate saying just might be: Surfing the Internet is the new smoking.
I’m far from the only one who experiences the can't-tear-yourself-away-from-the-screen aspect of being online, all the time. In China, where there have been reports of people dying after lengthy, uninterrupted stints in cyber cafes, Internet addiction has been categorized as a clinical disorder.
The documentary film Web Junkie by Hilla Medalia and Shosh Shlam looks at one of the many Chinese rehabilitation centers specializing in the problem of web addiction. Medalia and Shlam follow three teenagers who have been taken to a treatment center in Beijing by their parents for an intensive, and often brutal, three month rehab.
Last week’s New York Times Op-Doc video by the two filmmakers provides a quick look at one such center, and how many Chinese parents have chosen to treat the problem in their children. At times, it’s difficult to watch the kids, locked up in the militaristic treatment facilities, crying and begging to go home.
As many American parents already know, the disorder is not unique to China. Recently, a friend woke up at 2 a.m. to find her 9-year-old son playing Minecraft online.
Is the Internet the new smoking? Will our kids look back and wonder how we ever let them spend hours surfing the web or playing computer games just like we marvel at how older generations could ever have thought smoking cigarettes wasn’t dangerous?
According to a new Greek study, the severity of a child’s Internet addiction is linked to parenting style. The study’s lead author, Argyroula E. Kalaitzaki of the Technological Education Institute (TEI) of Crete, says that “good parenting, including parental warmth and affection, that is caring and protective parents, has been associated with lower risk for Internet addiction. Whereas bad parenting, including parental control and intrusion, that is authoritarian and neglectful parents, has been associated with higher risk for addiction."
If that's not enough to get you—and your kids—to shut down the screens once in awhile, I don't know what is.
If you think you or a family member might be too into the Internet, check out Texas State University's Internet Addiction site for warning signs and ways to cope.
TELL US: Do you think kids in the United States are unhealthily addicted to the Internet? Tell us in the comments or in a blog post.