China’s teen-only internet cafe offers new approach to fighting web addiction

I recently posted details of Vietnam’s authoritarian approach to combating internet-addiction in young people. Government policy, for August only, has closed down internet cafes within 200 metres of schools while late night curfews have been placed on all other internet cafes in Hanoi.

One outlet in China has been, on the other hand, adopting a totally different, ‘better the devil you know’ approach to the thorny issue of youth internet usage by introducing an exclusive internet cafes for teens.

Further details below come from the Times of India:

The cafe in Beijing promises a maximum online time of two hours so that teenagers’ productive time is not wasted, the People’s Daily reported. 

The internet cafe claims to be a “learning fairyland” and has set up computers in pairs so that “young people can exchange learning experiences face-to-face”

The cafe, however, has sparked off a public debate with many netizens saying it would provide opportunities to youth to try out new things. 

Though some said they are thinking about sending their children to such a place, others are worried that teenagers with poor judgement will log on to improper sites if no controls are exercised

It is often said if you discourage a child from doing something outright, they are likely to be more interested in doing it (or words to that effect), not only that but this age of internet-ubiquity, whether it from a mobile phone (particularly in Asia) or fixed internet, there is greater access suggested kids can, and will, find a way online if that is what they desire.

The Chinese approach, if suitably staffed (and by that I also mean the kids should not be over supervised), is a far better method of ensuring kids do not abuse the internet, in both time spent and content accessed.

Much of the internet’s capacity to do good is lost in Asia where paranoia over ‘unsuitable content’ marks the region as a global internet censorship hotspot (see here for a round-up of censorship in Southeast Asia).

Learning and refining language skills, exploring culture, fostering team work and encouraging creativity are just a snap shot of benefits the internet (including games) can gives kids when used in moderation. Internet cafes targeting children are also a big business opportunity given that supply (of internet for kids) is considerably below demand, with PCs not yet widespread across countries like Thailand, groups of friends often decamp to internet cafes after school.

The example in China is unique but well thought out, it will be interesting to see if it catches on or receives government praise/approval given China is currently looking at ways of preventing internet-addictions amongst its youth.