The Direct Approach: China Takes on Teen Internet Addiction

If you've ever wondered whether or not your addiction to gaming is a real one... be glad you're wondering while safe at home and not in the middle of Chinese boot camp therapy.

Although compulsive internet use has been considered a mental health issue in many countries, China is one of the first to label "internet addiction" a clinical disorder - and to take some pretty big steps in treating it.

In this short documentary that was recently published late last month, The New York Times takes an inside look at the Internet Addiction Treatment Center, one of the first rehabilitation centers for this disorder. Located in Daxing, a suburb of Beijing, Chinese teenagers are brought here to be "deprogrammed" from their internet gaming addictions with a mix of military boot camp and therapy.

The therapists do appear to have some good, sensical things to say, particularly to parents:

"Criticizing, accusing and blaming. You think these are the best ways to make them change, reflect, and make progress? One of the biggest issues among these kids is loneliness. Loneliness. Did you know they feel lonely? So where do they look for companions? The Internet. They know the Internet inside out, but nothing about human beings. They play to the point of losing themselves."

However, the image of a young boy crying and begging a reporter to take a letter out of the facility to his mother, and whispering about how they tied up his hands, is a haunting one, particularly for those of us who have oft-wondered  "am I a video game addict?"

While it is good to see a country tackle an issue like this head on... how much real healing is actually coming out of this form of rehabilitation?

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Avid PC gamer and long-time console lover. I enjoy sneaking, stealing everything not nailed down, and shooting zombies in the face. I'm also a cat.

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Published Feb. 3rd 2014
  • Rothalack
    Master O' Bugs
    I know someone who was sent to a camp of this nature (aimed towards "troubled kids", when really it's aimed towards, "terrible parents, send your kids here"). It was actually an outdoor camp kind of thing, no buildings, just tents. They got trench foot while they were there. Let's just say the person I know is much much worse off now then before.
  • Stephanie Tang
    Featured Columnist
    Ouch. I think that they are built on good intentions. Have you ever read the book "STARS"? I can't remember the author (and it is not exactly an easily-Googled book title) but it was a book we covered in school in about the 8th grade or so about a camp like this for troubled kids and which worked.

    I think something like that can help teach kids about society, authority, and themselves, but it is hard sometimes to put into practice effectively when you're dealing with real, troubled, people.
  • Coatedpolecat
    Featured Correspondent
    I don't think a "boot camp" is the best way to combat loneliness. Maybe some one on one time or anything not physically or emotionally scaring could help.
  • Stephanie Tang
    Featured Columnist
    Well, if you think about it, these kids ARE getting social interaction that they would not have managed to get otherwise. Many people in the military bond (and often for life).

    I think the methods that the rehabilitation center take might err on the side of extreme which would affect them in both physical and mental ways, but the root idea is not necessarily a bad one.
  • Venisia Gonzalez
    Featured Columnist
    This was really interesting to watch. It really makes one think on the effect of the internet in people's lives. What type of desperation must a parent, as in this documentary, be at to drive them to bring their child to a facility? I did like the director's description as "electronic heroin". He gives a valid description (to a certain degree of course).
  • Stephanie Tang
    Featured Columnist
    It was interesting, wasn't it? I think it is the same with parents as it is with the child. Some of it I honestly do attribute to bad parenting - one kid said "I stayed home and played games for a month. Then my parents sent me here."

    One month? One? It is a drastic step to take, and one that I know would personally destroy the relationship I have with my parents if they were ever to try and do that to me during my 'worrying times'.
  • MandieM
    Featured Correspondent
    yeah, I started watching this and parts of it definitely bothered me. It reminds me of the "kid's boot camps" that came out in the early 90s down in South America and other countries...a lot of them ended up with human rights cases against them. Good topic to address, but I think it's probably not the ideal way to go about it. I'm iffy on their tactics.
  • Stephanie Tang
    Featured Columnist
    I feel it is something of an old-fashioned method - like many of China's methods. They're big on traditional thinking. If you have a problem, toughen up, go to military school. That'll fix you.

    But I think the reason they are doing this is to condition these kids into taking orders, from their authorities, parents, teachers, therapists, whomever.

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