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Kids lost in cyberspace

By Yang Wanli   (China Daily)

08:47, September 07, 2011

Ren Tianhao stays at home alone while his parents go to work on May 13, 2009. He usually spends such time on the Internet or with his dog, rather than playing with friends. (Provided to China Daily)

Schoolchildren spend holidays in front of a screen, Yang Wanli reports in Beijing.

It was about 20 minutes after midnight in Beijing, and Yu Kun, 14, was still playing video games on the Internet while chatting in a chat room that only he and his classmates can access. His parents had fallen asleep an hour ago, unaware of their son's nocturnal doings.

Yu, who just started 2nd grade at a junior high school in Haidian district, was enjoying the last week of leisure before the end of his summer vacation. Even though chatting online perhaps prevented him from pursuing a more productive activity, he said it was not an "indulgence" and that he was only doing what many of his classmates did when they were away from school.

"There isn't anything interesting to do during the vacation," he told China Daily through the Internet. "It's one and a half months long. Our parents obviously can't play with us the entire time and they won't allow us to go places on our own because they are worried about our safety."

Unlike older generations, Yu and many teenagers are used to playing games on computers instead of games outdoors with their friends. As that becomes ever more prevalent, many experts are beginning to worry that it is impeding children's development.

Yu has three good friends in his class, all of whom live far away from him. "One is in Chaoyang district and the other two aren't anywhere near here," he said. "When we get together, we always end up going to museums or parks. It's boring to keep going to places that we've been familiar with for more than 10 years."

Compared with those ways of spending leisure time, chatting online and playing video games look pretty good, Yu said.

"Many of these games can be played for free and some are designed so that more than one person can play them at a time. It's great that you can play and talk with your friends without leaving your home. So why shouldn't we do it?"

Some parents, though, find such attitudes to be worrisome.

Yang Jinlan is constantly anxious about her 15-year-old son, who will take a provincial senior high school entrance examination in June next year. His family, which lives in Changsha, Hunan province, has already set the lofty goal of sending him to Changjun Senior High School, one of the best schools in the city.

To prepare for the exam, he now spends about 80 percent of his spare time reading books and using computers, Yang said.

"He seldom goes out with his friends to play sports or do other things outdoors," Yang said.

Ironically, so many hours devoted to study may ultimately hinder his chances of getting into the school.

In China, provincial entrance exams consist of two parts, a written test and a physical test. The latter threatens to be difficult for the boy, who, perhaps because he is indoors so often, has become nearsighted and overweight.

Standing 170 centimeters tall, he now weighs about 90 kilograms and wears a pair of thick glasses, Yang said.

Yang's family lives in Yuhua district, in a place containing more than 2,000 homes. Yet, even with so many people living so close together, the residents there have little sense of neighborliness.

"Most of the people here don't even know each other, let alone pay visits to each other," she said. "Kids who are younger than 3 often play together while their parents or nannies watch. But older children rarely get together for games."

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