Mobile phone addiction has become an acute problem among "left-behind children" in China's rural areas, according to a recent research report, which recommends the inclusion of cellphone management courses in school curriculums to teach students how dependency on the gadget can be harmful for them.
"Left-behind children" is a general term used to refer to rural minors whose parents work in urban areas, and they are looked after by their grandparents or other relatives.
According to the Wuhan University research report, based on a survey since 2021 involving more than 13,000 children and their parents in Henan, Hubei and Hunan provinces, at least 67 percent of these minors showed a tendency of mobile phone addiction, while 21 percent were seriously addicted.
The report, published in early February, said that 40 percent of these children used their own cellphones and 50 percent used mobile phones belonging to their relatives to play online games and watch short videos.
It recommended including cellphone management courses in school curriculums, so that students learn about the harmful effects of cellphone overuse. Schools should also take stricter measures to regulate the use of mobile phones in classrooms, it said.
The rapid development of telecommunication infrastructure in rural areas has made it very convenient and affordable for these children to gain access to the internet, the report said. To make matters more worrisome, internet companies have over time developed many highly addictive applications, it added.
As aging grandparents are often less capable of regulating behavior of "left-behind children", they gain independent control of cellphones and get hooked on the internet at an early age, which has a negative impact on their overall health and development. Online classes during the COVID-19 pandemic further aggravated their addiction, the report said.
The virtual world adds to peer pressure, as good online gaming skills is considered a barometer of success among these rural children, according to the report.
The research delved into the physical and mental health of "left-behind children" who are glued to cellphones.
The report said the addiction had led to a decline in physical activities among these rural minors and increased cases of myopia, a common eye defect in which distant vision is blurred.
The addiction also makes them highly susceptible to inappropriate media and "incorrect world views", and can trigger serious mental health issues, the report added.
In the survey, almost 60 percent of parents admitted that cellphone addiction had a negative impact on their children's academic performance and 22 percent said the impact was "very serious".
The report called for more government regulations of online games and short-video and livestreaming platforms.
According to a statement issued by the National Radio and Television Administration on Monday, China will strengthen the management of short videos to prevent children from getting addicted to them.