A photo of a child with a big and clear message: “Don’t allow him to go online.” That is what one Chinese father posted on the Weibo accounts of a couple of Internet cafes recently, followed by his phone number. His only purpose was to stop his son from playing computer games.

This got a lot of attention in the Chinese social networks, as it represents an issue that many Chinese parents are struggling with.  Out of China’s 330 million online gamers, 150 million are thought to be the under 19 years of age.

In some cases, they experience addiction problems that cannot be so easily diagnosed by specialists. The most typical symptoms by addicted gamers are attention deficits, academic problems and hyperactivity disorders.

Chinese gamers play online at an Internet cafe in Beijing. Pic: AP.

For one education advisor in the city of Changsha, the father’s desperate call was just a small example of the frustration felt by parents, but to deal with the poor behavior of children parents must look at real causes behind the problem and be aware of their children’s psychological needs.

Now, Chinese authorities say they will develop specific criteria to deal with online gaming addiction.

“I support this policy because the Internet cafes have become the source of addiction for our sons to play games. So if this policy is implemented, the cafes will be forced to stop them from playing there,” says another desperate mother, Liu Fenglan.

This mother, originally from southern Sichuan province but resident of Shanghai for some years, is also worried about the people that her 21-year-old son meets while playing. “The people in the cafe are not good, I am worried about him hanging around with those guys,” adds Liu.

In her words, her son just spends too many hours in front of the computer playing games. “I prohibit him from playing games at home so he just goes out with his friends. Sometimes I will go to an Internet cafe and catch him. In these Internet cafes, it is even easier to get addicted due to the environment.”

Liu’s son is an adult who is already in university.

Another Weibo user called Li Houlin explains how “children really need to study, they can play games later when they get into college.”

Academic pressure for children in the Chinese school system is high, lasting until the students take the gaokao, the annual national college entrance examination. Last year nine million students took it with the hope of getting into a good program in a prestigious university.

“Children are like birds, they are more difficult to teach when they are grown up, but as a birds, they find it difficult living in this situation also,” adds Li, remarking the importance of studies in the society.

It is unclear what tools the researchers are going to use in order to develop China-specific criteria that suits the variety of youth in the country who are of such diverse backgrounds.

China does have camps to control Internet addictions. In the past, extreme cases have emerged of teenagers beaten to death at such camps and others receiving electric shock treatment, although after the death of a minor in Guangxi province, the health authorities decided to ban this type of treatment.