The phenomenon of Internet addiction has been sweeping the globe in recent years, but nowhere is it more common than in Asia. Young people in China and South Korea in particular are beset by unhealthy obsessions with their tablets and smartphones, largely for Internet gaming. The problem has become so bad in China that hundreds of boot camp-style treatment facilities have opened up to cure these teens of their modern addictions. Will this type of boot camp appear in the U.S. any time soon? And should we be worried?
Asian Internet Addiction
Behavioral addictions can be just as troubling as chemical addictions and the incidence of Internet addiction in Asia has been rising over the last decade. The statistics are troubling. In South Korea, statistics have shown that young people are especially vulnerable. Around 160,000 kids between the ages of 5 and 9 are hooked. As a result, the government has been pouring money into counseling and treatment programs for kids and teens.
In China, young Internet addicts number well over 25 million. The number doubled in just a few years and the rise is thought to be connected to the growing number of Internet cafes. Young people in China sit in these cafes for hours, or even days, playing games. Stories have surfaced of infants being sold to pay for gaming addictions, and even babies starving to death from neglect because mom or dad can’t be torn away from a gaming session.
The Boot Camp Solution
China is fighting back against Internet addiction in teens with a form of tough love. The country has seen hundreds of boot camps open and parents are sending their kids to them in droves. Teens stay at these facilities for as long as six months, getting a military-like experience in an effort to cure them of Internet addiction. Many of these facilities are run by former soldiers who use military techniques to treat the teens.
The idea behind the camps is to restore physical and mental well-being with hard work and discipline. Most of the teens coming into the camps are in poor physical heath. They have gotten no more exercise than that provided by clicking a mouse. In the camps, they cook and clean and do other chores while learning traditional Chinese dance, music and other skills. Punishments include physical challenges like push-ups and sit-ups.
The Dangers Of Boot Camp Treatment
The overall idea sounds great, but there is a downside to this tough love approach. When the activities aren’t well regulated, there can be serious dangers in boot camp treatment. One teen died while being treated at a camp in China. The types of camps seen in Asia aren’t likely to make an appearance in the U.S. where addiction treatment is evolving into something based on research and evidence. However, there are boot camp-style treatment programs here that are often called wilderness programs. If you are the parent of a troubled teen, you should be wary of these.
Many such programs can offer great experiences for addicted teens, but others are downright dangerous. There is no government oversight of these programs and there have been numerous reports of abuse and neglect. A character-building wilderness program might benefit teens, but boot camps are risky.
If you have a teen with an addiction, Internet or otherwise, don’t send him or her away to camp without knowing how it operates. Tough love has its place, but research tells us that loving support and evidence-based treatment methods are far more effective and much safer.
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