2 in 3 S'poreans admit to social networking and internet addiction

GAMER: At six hours a day, Mr Aloysius Kee is spending almost twice the average time Singaporeans spend online for non-work usage.
PHOTO: The New Paper

He gets up only at noon and the first thing he does is switch on his computer.

As the two - yes, two - screens come alive, Mr Aloysius Kee, 19, starts on his daily routine.

One screen is for watching videos and the other, for playing games.

He does both concurrently online for about six hours a day and leaves his seat only when he needs a toilet break and when his stomach growls.

Mr Kee says: "I'll play until the wee hours of the morning and regret it, but it's still worth it."

He is one of the many young people here who lead a sedentary and unhealthy lifestyle.

Singapore placed ninth out of 15 countries across the region in insurer AIA's 2016 Healthy Living Index Survey. China came in first as the healthiest, while Hong Kong ranked last.

Of the 10,316 regional respondents, 501 are Singaporeans and most of them say they spend too much time online, whether it is on their mobile phones or computers.

Two in three say they have difficulty breaking away from their screens.

And almost the same number admit they spend too much time on social networking websites and the Internet.

While the regional average is three hours daily for non-work usage, Singaporeans spend 3.7 hours.

Mr Kee's average is almost double that. The Singapore Polytechnic graduate, who is waiting to enlist into NS, weighs 100kg, partly because of his online addiction.

He fell in love with gaming after his father bought him his first PlayStation when he was five.

He says: "I didn't know what a PlayStation was at that time, but once I started, I couldn't stop.

Read also: Mother nearly loses daughters because of her internet addiction


"I also had many friends who would play MapleStory (an online game) with me in primary school, and that got me hooked on computer games."

Mr Kee, an only child, often felt lonely.

He says: "I can't remember why my father bought me games, but they definitely helped with my loneliness."

Mr Kee was also drawn to how video games allowed him to explore a whole new universe.

"When I'm gaming, I have the freedom to be an adventurer who explores different worlds.

"I love to see new things in a fantasy setting because there are no such things in real life," he says.

He bought four more gaming consoles over the years and now has more than 100 video games.

As he went on his gaming binge, his weight rose from 70kg in 2009 to 100kg in 2014.

The excessive use of digital devices leads to a lack of sleep, change of diet, and mood swings, counsellors and psychiatrists tell The New Paper on Sunday.

Again, Mr Kee says he can relate to the perils of gaming.

When he was living in a three-storey semi-detached house, he would fill his room with snacks and drinks to avoid climbing the stairs.

And when his supplies ran low, he enlisted the help of his helper.

Mr Kee says: "At least back then, there were physical education lessons. Without them, the only exercise I would have got was running after the bus in the morning."

In 2012, his family of three moved to a five-room HDB flat.

Now, his gaming devices are installed in the living room and it takes just 10 steps for him to go to the kitchen or toilet.

He does not leave his home much and he says he has not taken on a job after graduating.

He says: "I go out once or twice a week with either my mother or some of my friends.

"I'd go for badminton or a swim with a few friends once a month, but I wouldn't join them if it's too early."

Mr Kee goes to bed at around 3am every day and turns down any outings that start before 11am.

His mother Madam Lim, a nurse, says: "I'll tell him to cut down on the number of hours he plays and to go to bed early."

But despite her pleas, he says he cannot quit his love for gaming because "it's very relaxing".

He rarely weighs himself unless it is compulsory, saying: "If I don't remind myself of my weight, I wouldn't have to worry about it.

"I want to shed weight, but I don't have the motivation because gaming helps to take my mind off things."

But he hopes "things will change within these two years... Hopefully, I'll get in shape after NS".

Spending eight hours online affects his weight

He goes to bed at 6am and gets up at noon.

His friends often call him a sloth because he rarely moves, choosing instead to spend about eight hours daily on his laptop watching YouTube videos and playing online games.

Read also: Parents seek help for addicted kids

Jerome, 19, describes the online world as an avenue for stress relief.

The Ngee Ann Polytechnic graduate, who will be enlisting into NS in a month's time, says: "I go online to pass time and play with my friends.

"It helps to forget any worries in real life."

He sees gaming as a form of escape from thinking about the future, such as furthering his education and finding a job.

Jerome explains that his gaming habit has led to him having irregular meal times too.

"I'd have lunch at 7pm and dinner at 3am sometimes.

"I like it when everyone has fallen asleep because it is peaceful," he says.

"After everyone sleeps, I feel more awake because I get my own alone time in isolation."

His irregular eating pattern has affected his weight. Despite being 1.7m tall, Jerome weighs only about 56kg.

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His parents used to tell him to sleep earlier and cut down on the time he spends gaming, but they recently have been more accepting of his habit as he will be enlisting soon.

But keeping those hours can affect Jerome's mood.

He says: "Sometimes, I'd wake up after four hours and won't be able to fall back asleep.

"I'd get very agitated and moody throughout the day."

Excessive online use is bad: Experts

Excessive gaming and Internet use not only lead to addiction but other health issues too.

They include sleep deprivation, mood swings, and weight gain, experts say.

Dr Carol Balhetchet, senior director for youth services at the Singapore Children's Society, says: "The games are filled with very attractive and vibrant colours.

"After excessive usage of digital devices, our senses are heightened, and it gets harder to fall asleep."

She says that physically, it takes us about an hour to get into a relaxed state to fall asleep. It is therefore important to stop using digital devices before we go to bed.

Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist in private practice, says sleeping late leads to a delayed sleep phase that does not fit in with normal routines such as having lunch.

He says: "Young people like to play through the night when everyone's sleeping, and wake up late in the morning. They also tend to skip meals because of the delayed sleep phase.

"Sometimes, they will skip breakfast and just have lunch and dinner because they woke up too late."


Family counsellor John Vasavan says excessive Internet use and online gaming results in young people being desk-bound.

He says: "The youth of the past often played in the rain or ran around in fields, butthey are nowadays more desk-bound, and lack exercise."

According to the Ministry of Education, obesity in school children has steadily increased from 10 per cent in 2000 to 11 per cent in 2013 and 12 per cent in 2014.

Mr Vasavan says the digital addicts tend to pick food that does not interfere with their gaming frenzy. "Buying fast food makes them happy because they can eat with one hand and game with the other. This is how they become obese over time."

Dr Lim and Mr Vasavan say the lifestyle hurts the young people's interpersonal skills.

"As children grow up, there are certain age groups to learn different sets of social skills.

"So if a child spends his time playing games all the time, he is very likely to miss out on cultivating the important social skills, which leads to a vicious cycle of resorting to playing even more games because he has no friends," says Dr Lim.

He adds that the serious cases often lead to truancy and poor academic results in school.

"Overall, it's a very bad lifestyle, because not only do they skip meals, but the lack of having daylight activities and enough sleep results in psychological problems as well."

Read also: Man used brother's credit card to feed $15,000-a-year addiction to mobile game

About the survey

The AIA survey found that excessive screen time has affected the health of children.

Children do not get enough exercise due to spending too much time online and playing video games.

And their parents know it too, with 67 per cent of them admitting that their children do not get sufficient exercise because of those reasons.

The survey also found that Singaporeans are aware that prolonged time online is bad for them.

•69 per cent say it prevents them from getting adequate exercise. Singaporeans spend 2.6 hours a week exercising, compared to the regional average of 3 hours.

•69 per cent say it prevents them from getting sufficient sleep. Singaporeans sleep 6.4 hours, versus the regional average of 6.9 hours.

•69 per cent said it also affects their posture.

This article was first published on June 12, 2016.
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