china internet cafe, china internet users
Andy Wong/AP
Chinese people plays games at an internet cafe inside a shopping mall in Beijing, China.

What Causes Internet Addiction and How Can It Be Treated?

August 10, 2009 06:00 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The death of a boy at a camp for Internet addicts has many in China calling for reforms in how Internet addiction is treated.

Boy Beaten to Death at Internet Addiction Camp

A 15-year-old boy from the Guangxi Qihuang of China died last Sunday at a camp designed to treat Internet addiction. The boy had been put into solitary confinement and beaten by camp workers; he died from injuries just 10 hours after arriving at the camp.

His death has sparked calls for regulation over China’s numerous Internet addiction treatment organizations that have been created over the past five years.

“The tragedy is not accidental,” said Tao Ran, the director of a treatment center, to state news agency Xinhua. “Most rehab camps adopt military training, but many teenage Internet addicts cannot handle it well. Thus it comes with conflicts and violence. A similar case also happened two years ago in Chongqing Municipality.”

Internet addiction has become a significant problem in China, home to more than 338 million Internet users, the most in the world. According to a report released in 2008 by the China Youth Association for Network Development, 9.7 percent of Chinese Internet users between 13 and 30 have an Internet addiction. More than two-thirds of addicts are male.

China’s Treatment Centers

The first Internet addiction treatment center opened in 2004 on a military base in Daxing, a suburb of Beijing. It has treated about 5,000 addicts through counseling, medication, exercise and military-style discipline, usually lasting one to three months.

Similar centers and camps have opened all over the country; according to Reuters, there are over 200 organizations that offer treatment for Internet addiction. But Tao Ran, an army colonel and director of the Daxing clinic, says that China must adopt a more medical and scientific approach with tighter regulations.

 “Those measures including education program and military training widely popular among nationwide rehab camps are insufficient and ineffective,” Tao told Xinhua. “But the public, especially parents, often have the wrong idea and they go after these camps blindly. That's why we are in urgent need of regulations and standards to curb the disorder.”

China did take a significant step in regulating Internet addiction treatment in July when it outlawed the use of electric shock therapy, which was being used at an Internet addiction boot camp in eastern China and, according to a 2007 Washington Post article, had been used at Tao’s clinic.

“Electroshock therapy for Internet addiction...has no foundation in clinical research or evidence and therefore is not appropriate for clinical application,” declared the Ministry of Health on its Web site.

The Causes of Internet Addiction

Internet addiction is a problem in many industrialized nations, particularly China and South Korea. China has the most Internet users in the world and Korea had the highest percentage of people with Internet access.

In Korea, “social life for the young revolves around the ‘PC bang,’ dim Internet parlors that sit on practically every street corner,” wrote Martin Fackler in The New York Times. For Korean and Chinese youths, the Internet becomes a central part of their lives and many have trouble finding other things to do.

Lee Yun-hee, a counselor at a Korean camp that provides outdoor group activities for Internet addicts, told the Times, “It is most important to provide them experience of a lifestyle without the Internet. Young Koreans don’t know what this is like.”

There are other reasons for Internet addiction. Guo Tiejun, head of a treatment center in Shanghai, told The Washington Post that loneliness and social difficulties are the sources for many Internet addictions.

“Our conclusion is that kids who get addicted in society have some kind of disability or weakness. They can't make friends, can't fulfill their desire of social communication, so they go online,” he said.

It can also be caused by the intense pressure on many Chinese and Korean children to succeed in school and get a good job. Xu Leiting, a psychologist at the Daxing center, told The New York Times, “The main cause of Internet addiction is that parents' expectations for their children are too high. … Then they escape to the virtual world to seek achievements, importance and satisfaction, or a sense of belonging.”

This was the case for He Fang, a 22-year-old a college student who was treated in Daxing. He told the post that in treatment he learned, “It's not about getting away from pressure but facing it and dealing with it.”

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