As of today, the fun is officially over for Chinese children. From Monday to Thursday, the government no longer allows them to play online games. Only one hour a day on weekends and public holidays.
That system isn’t perfect: many kids cheat by using their parents’ computer, phone, or login information to get around the time limit. That should be a thing of the past thanks to facial recognition software. Tencent, the Chinese digital giant, introduced its new ‘espionage software,’ Midnight Patrol, in early July, which detects whether there is an adult player behind the screen. “Kids, put your phone away and go to bed,” the tech firm advised its young clients.
China is the largest market in the world for games. About two-thirds of minors in the country often play online games. 13.2 percent even spend more than two hours a day on school days, according to state media. There have been a lot of concerns and fierce criticism of the gaming industry lately. For example, in an article about Tencent’s hit game Honor of Kings, which is played daily by more than 100 million people, online games were referred to as “opium.” According to the National Administration for Press and Publications (NPPA), the Chinese authority that authorizes video games, these new limits are not just required to curb game addiction. As a result, the number of cases of myopia is on the rise. “Teenagers are our motherland’s future,” an NPPA spokeswoman said, emphasizing the “critical importance” of “safeguarding minors’ bodily and emotional health.”
China is not alone in this. In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) published guidelines for children’s screen behavior. Children under 5 should not be allowed to watch a screen for more than an hour a day and children under 1 should not be allowed to watch at all. Similar guidelines apply in the US and Great Britain. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics states that children under 18 months should avoid screens altogether. In the Netherlands, the Eye Fund and the Netherlands Center for Youth Health promote the ’20-20-2′ guideline until the age of 20: 20 minutes on a screen, 20 seconds looking far away, and then 2 hours outside.
Even the bosses of large tech companies appear to be extremely careful when it comes to the screen behavior of their offspring. For example, Apple founder Steve Jobs banned phones and iPads at the table so he could talk to his children about books, history, and other topics. For years there was no iPad in the Jobs house. Google CEO Sundar Pichai said three years ago that his high-school-age son didn’t have a phone and the TV in their home was barely on. Directors of other tech companies are also diligently trying to shield their children from violence, porn, and other harmful things that they may see on the internet.