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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Should governments control internet usage for teens?


China plans to limit access to gaming and entertainment apps for teens.

China has announced plans to further regulate internet usage for teenagers in the country, reports confirmed, amid efforts by the government to battle internet addiction in the region, particularly for younger people.

Internet addiction amongst teens is a global issue. Last week, Doha News reported on an internal Instagram study that found the app is harmful to teens.

China’s control of the internet makes it uniquely capable of imposing strict restrictions. According to the BBC, authorities in the region said they would like to improve concentration and protect young people’s eyesight.

What restrictions has China imposed on young teens?

After expressing concerns over internet addiction in the past few years, the Chinese government has taken significant action this year to tackle the issue.

In February, the country’s Ministry of Education banned the use of mobile phones in schools. Students were no longer allowed to bring their phones unless they obtained written parental consent. An online poll with 27,000 participants showed that most parents believed the rule was unnecessary due to existing restrictions imposed by schools.

In August, China’s video game regulator announced further restrictions on online gaming for anyone under the age of 18. Children and teenagers are no longer allowed to play online games on weekdays, with a maximum of one hour of gameplay on weekends from 8 to 9pm.

This is enforced by requiring users to present an ID when signing up for an online game. Tencent, a Chinese gaming company, introduced facial recognition to prevent children from using adult ID’s to bypass the state-imposed restrictions.

Most recently, China announced restrictions on Douyin, its version of TikTok. The app requires a guardian’s consent for under 18’s and introduced a 40 minute limit on usage for anyone under 14.

Previously, when limitations such as this have been introduced, young people found workarounds to circumvent them. To tackle this, Douyin announced financial rewards to anyone who spots a bug enabling such a workaround.

Should governments restrict internet usage for teenagers?

In 2017, research conducted by The Education Policy Institute in the UK found that limiting young people’s internet usage won’t protect them from the harms of social media. 

Despite the negative effects of social media, the researchers found that imposing such restrictions would lead to people “having a lower level of digital skills”. It also found that although children with limited internet usage may be protected during their younger years, they won’t be well equipped to deal with these problems as they inevitably face them at a later age.

Depriving children of digital skills could cost them a potentially rewarding career. 

A survey published by The Sun found that over half of children and teenagers would like to pursue a career as social media influencers, with the majority of them aspiring to be YouTubers. While people may have previously ignored such jobs, they are now seen as serious career paths.

However, the downsides of the internet on teenagers cannot be ignored. 

In a 2016 study carried by Ofcom, 70% of children said they missed out on sleep because of their online activities. Additionally, 60% admitted to neglecting school work because of the internet.

Despite these issues, many still believe that governmental restrictions are not appropriate. Writing for The Guardian, Larry Magid said that “banning teenagers from social media would be an attack on their human rights”.

So what can be done to protect children without depriving them of their right to use the internet?

Is it the parents’ responsibility?

Tools such as Screen Time introduced by Apple and Google allow parents to control how much time their kids spend online. It’s believed that it’s the responsibility of the parents to monitor their children’s usage instead of the government enforcing its rulings.

Screen Time gives parents control over their children’s phone usage [Apple]

The downside of leaving internet restrictions up to the parents is that some may over-restrict it, while others may not limit it at all. This can lead to differences in how much exposure each child gets to the internet. However, parents already make more critical decisions that significantly impact their kids, so screen time is just one more thing parents are now responsible for. 

As a result, parents should take the time to study both the positive and negative effects of the internet, particularly social media, on their kids. Instead of imposing their own restrictions, governments should educate both parents and children on how to use the internet within healthy levels.

Do you think governments should control teens’ internet usage, or should the responsibility be left to the parents? Let us know in the comments.


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