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Seventy in reclusion, could reach 3,600: Youths hiding from the world

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About 70 local youngsters stay at home 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for at least three months in a row. They do not work or study. Internet is their only window to the outside world and videogames and cartoons are their best friends.
A study on reclusive youth in Macau has indicated that these numbers may increase in the future, suggesting that 1,600 to 3,600 youths are likely to become part of this so-called hidden youth or ‘hikikomori’ as the Japanese refer to it.
The review calls on schools and parents to change their mindset and approach towards these young people. The government must also raise awareness in the society for this hidden problem.
A total of 1,506 residents aged between 12 to 24 years old were interviewed by phone in August 2010. Ten parents or families were also interviewed between October and November.
The report’s findings “are very significant and Macau society must pay attention to this phenomenon,” researcher RES Solutions pointed out.
The study commissioned by the Social Welfare Bureau shows that all ‘hikikomori’ youths or the potential ones do not study or are jobless. There are reports of youths (6.1 percent) that stayed at home for one year, but most of them go out after about three months.
Most hidden youths in Macau stay at home because they cannot find a job, do not want to work or study or do not want to see anyone. Others are waiting for a job. The study also warned that 82.4 percent do not believe they have a problem.
They sleep more than usual and the rest of their time is spent browsing the Internet, playing videogames and watching cartoons. They don’t like to watch TV, read magazines or play sports.
“This behaviour reflects the trend for this group of individuals of being detached from reality,” the report stressed.
Today’s youngsters spend a lot of time online, but the difference between ‘hikikomori’ kids and others is that they use it less for social networking and more for web browsing. The study also reveals that they show a bigger trend to suffer from Internet addiction disorder.
Hidden youths also show preference for role-playing and strategy videogames. A total of 43.8 percent of reclusive youngsters or potential ones say they play videogames because they have nothing to do, a figure twice as high as the average for non-reclusive youngsters.

 

A study commissioned by the Social Welfare Bureau called on authorities to raise society’s awareness, particularly of schools and parents, of the ‘hikikomori’ issue

Virtual winners

Secretary-general of Caritas Macau, Paul Pun Chi Meng, has often come across some of these cases that, he believes, are closely linked to computer addiction. “We all recall the case of a student that spent too much time online and collapsed,” the social worker said.
“They’d rather stay in front of the computer as they perceive it as more enjoyable than staying at school or doing their homework. They feel frustrated if they cannot do the homework or fail in an exam. By playing games they can get high scores instead. Their poor academic standards cause them anxiety and frustration,” he added.
Local ‘hikikomori’ youths also spend much more time than others reading comic books and watching cartoons. They like Japanese ‘manga’-style stories of love and fights, because it helps them to “kill time," as the stories are "attractive, interesting and exciting”.

‘They’d rather stay in front of the computer as they perceive it as more enjoyable than staying in school or doing homework. (…) By playing games they can get high scores, instead’ - Paul Pun

“Both reclusive youths and potential ones are seldom advised by relatives and friends to read less comic books or watch cartoons,” the report says.
These young people also end up hidden from the society because they do not feel comfortable among other people.
“Their introverted nature and low self-esteem don’t allow them to face life with a very positive attitude, nor allow them to develop and improve their skills. As a consequence, instead of being recognized and praised these young people are often snubbed by others,” the report says.
The study shows that they avoid socialising with other people or attending events with lots of people. They are unhappier with their lives than their peers (31.3 percent versus 8.6 percent).
Reclusive youths do not attend school or job-related activities, as they feel snubbed, excluded or criticised. Because of that, they eventually refuse to go to school or to work and participate less and less in social activities.

Parental neglect


Parents’ attitudes towards hidden youths is strongly criticized in the report. They use “simple and rough approaches when they advise their children to control their addiction to Internet” or prefer their children to stay at home instead of “socialising with ‘bad friends’ or having deviant behaviours”.
“Some low-educated parents and with low self-esteem think they are not able to educate their children and assume an indulgent attitude, while others believe their children are grown-up enough and have the right to choose their lives,” the report says.
The study points at a lack of communication between parents and children as another reason for ‘hikikomori’ behaviours. It concludes that the ‘hikikomori’ syndrome is caused by social and education reasons, but not by cultural.

‘People nowadays rely too much on IT technology. (…) The earlier we expose our children to IT, the greater impact or more difficulty it will bring to their school learning at a later stage’ - Teresa Vong

It calls for cooperation between government, parents and schools. The government is suggested to hold awareness campaigns, in order to “strengthen core youth associations’ knowledge” on this issue, as well as improving social services.
Parents “should adopt a correct education model, strengthening communication with their children, acquiring computer skills in order to talk with the new generations, and start looking for help of professional institutions.” In addition, schools should encourage teachers to pay closer attention to students and guide them.
Also, Pun urged schools to not only think about the 70 reclusive young people, but to prevent the other 3,600 from following the same road. “School activities should be more enjoyable and teachers have to change attitude,” he said.
The social worker advised parents to play videogames with their children so they can have less opportunities to become addicted. Parents also have to be educated, he said.

 

Most hidden youths in Macau stay at home because they cannot find a job, do not want to work or study or do not want to see anyone. Others are waiting for a job.

IT slaves

The director of the University of Macau Educational Research Centre, Teresa Vong Sou Kuan, warns schools to refrain their use of information technology (IT) in the classroom. Vong believes there is a wrong concept of technology advancement.
“People nowadays rely too much on IT technology. In principle we use technology. We are not to be used or consumed by technology.  The earlier we expose our children to IT stuff (image learning), the greater impact or more difficulty it will bring to their school learning at a later stage,” she said.
The educator stresses that most local schools are private and they function with a free-market mechanism that is client-oriented. “Parents want their children to learn computers at a very young age, so schools will introduce these courses.”
“Of course the government also needs to do something for this. At this stage, I don't think the government has a thorough thought on the impact of IT technology on our youth,” she said.
Vong argued that Macau must allow students to have critical literacy towards all kinds of media. For instance, “the computer or IT classes offered by school teachers are required to change their content, to include not only skill-based but also critical-based. Needless to say, we also need to change the mindset of school teachers and principals.”
Both Pun and Vong believe that more education should be provided to parents in this area.

The Macau Daily Times received no reply from the Social Welfare Bureau to questions about the measures that it will take to address the study’s concerns

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