The "information superhighway" is supposed to spread knowledge, but parents in poor rural communities find their children use it more for smut and video games.
It's only 9 a.m., but groups of secondary school students between 12 and 15 years old are already huddled around computers at an Internet shop in the mostly-rural Dien Ban District, Quang Nam Province.
Some of them are watching pornography, others are chatting online.
A ninth-grader from Dung Si Dien Ngoc Secondary School, who is chatting with a local girl, tells his friend that he thinks the girl is "hot" and he'll try to seduce her. He says he thinks she's willing to go out with him. The subtext is that he thinks she's willing to do much more than just go out with him.
After chatting with the girl, the boy accesses a forum of students from Da Nang. "Let's see if the city kids have more interesting things going on than around here," he says.
Another Internet shop nearby is packed with local students all morning. Some stand outside cursing harshly because there are no free computers. Obscenities mix with sounds of gun fire, screams and blood-splattering from the online games in the shop.
The establishment's owner says he opened the shop nearly four years ago with 20 computers, and he often stays open until 10 p.m. He is about to buy more computers to meet higher demand during the summer.
With the province's great outdoors - terraced rice fields, green mountains and cool swimming holes - just waiting to be explored by adventurous kids on their summer break, many youngsters will opt to sit in front of the screen and surf the net instead.
The power of connectivity
An Internet shop near a primary school in the central province of Binh Dinh Province's Hoai Nhon District is often crowded with kids younger than 10 years old. Though their hometown is known as an impoverished hamlet on infertile land, the kids are all masters of online gaming, fluent in the language of online chatting, and have the ability to look up anything they want on the Internet.
Trinh Huu Loc, head of the Quang Ngai planning and business department, said local Internet subscriptions were on the rise, particularly in the countryside. The province had more than 6,400 subscribers last year, compared to some 1,100 two years ago, he said.
Loc said the province wanted 14,400 subscribers this year, hoping for 60 percent of the new additions to come from the countryside, in line with goals set by the state-owned Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Group.
Neighboring Quang Nam Province, meanwhile, said over 12,000 people had registered for Internet service by this May, while the province had only 4,000 subscribers in 2007.
Family values dying
Many parents in the central region are worried by the recent growth of Internet connectivity in their areas.
Nguyen Thi H. from Dien Thang Commune, Dien Ban District, says her eighth-grade son always lies to her, telling her he needs money for school and then "spending it all day at Internet shops."
The concerned parent says the strangest thing is the new way her son talks.
"He uses words that nobody understands, saying he learned them online."
Bay Hien, 69, in Cat Hai Commune, Binh Dinh Province, says his grandchildren now talk "unintelligibly" thanks to vocabulary they learned chatting on the Internet.
"They say I'm too old to understand," Hien says, adding that the worst thing is that kids now ignore so many traditional norms, such as respect for elders.
"What worries me most is that children now are never polite or decent towards adults anymore."
Huynh Vuong from Quang Ngai Province's Tu Nghia District says he quit his job and took a 50 percent pay cut to work closer to home in order to supervise his son, who has been cutting class to play online games.
"My wife and I are always worried and afraid. At night I can't help thinking that my son is addicted to online games so much that he'll eventually have to steal for money and then become a drug addict. "
But the more he tells his son to quit, the more the boy plays behind his back, Vuong says.
Sixty-three-year-old Nam rides her bicycle to her grandson's school every morning to ensure that he goes to school and doesn't cut class to go to the Internet shop.
"I don't know what the Internet is and why it attracts children so much," Nam says. "Although I'm old and weak, I have to [ride my bike to] watch over him for the sake of his schooling."
Do Van Duc, who runs Nhu Ngoc Internet shop in Quang Ngai Province's Son Tinh District, says his young customers don't come for educational purposes, they just come to play games.
"Many students quit school to play games here," he says.
"Their parents are outraged. Some have come here to smack their kids right at the shop."
Hoang Van Truc, deputy head of the police station in the town of Quang Ngai's Nghia Chanh Ward, says his office has dealt with several Internet-related crimes, including one student who stole 11 bicycles for money to spend on online games.
"Internet should be brought to the countryside for educational purposes, but it's also dangerous that students are so addicted to online games that they cut class and quit studying," says Nguyen Duy Khanh, principal of Tinh Phong Secondary School in Quang Ngai's Son Tinh District.
Source: Tuoi Tre