Internet Addiction is a hot topic, especially in our home. My son, who is 7, will be the first generation of children born with an iPad in their hands. Ok, that might be an exaggeration, but he did get one at the age of two. I wonder what the effects will be both mentally and physically? I constantly monitor his use; because I am like most parents, l want my kids to be well-rounded with diverse interests.
In any case, many folks are thinking about this subject. Last week, a movie came out on PBS, called Web Junkie. I am going to provide you with the description of the movie, and a link to watch in online. Don’t stop there. Go over to PBS where they have a “toolkit” to download. It can be watched there, until August 13th.
China is the first country in the world to classify Internet addiction as a clinical disorder, the cure for which is the subject of Web Junkie.
The fast-paced film starts in a video cafe, where teenagers blissfully play Internet games and smoke cigarettes. Cut to the inside of the no-frills treatment facility, where guards rouse the dreary-eyed visitors from cell-like rooms for morning exercises.
Suddenly, it is clear these kids have followed their computer keystrokes to a dark and different place. Some, in fact, do not know exactly how they got there. One patient–or inmate–says he was told he was going on a family ski trip to Russia. He went to sleep at home and when he awoke he was at a “Chinese teenager mental growth” facility, one of more than 400 treatment centers created by the government.
There are many unhappy campers. “I’m wasting my time here,” one patient protests. “I don’t need any treatment.” Others grimace as they are forced to the floor and told to hold themselves in an uncomfortable position for 30 minutes. A teen becomes violent. “Call the drillmaster!” a staffer shouts. Another day in the life of an Internet addict Boot Camp, with many remaining. There is nothing virtual about the treatment center, which resembles a Marine Corps boot camp far more than a typical Western clinic. Patients are under constant surveillance–even as they sleep. Rigorous exercise programs are augmented by group therapy, brain scans and classroom instruction. In one class, an instructor explains that Internet addiction blocks the normal development of the social part of the brain. This does not necessarily convince the patients, one of whom calls the classes an attempt at “brainwashing.”
The filmmakers interview Tao Ran, the professor who established the world’s first Internet addiction clinic and who calls Internet addiction China’s most significant public health hazard, claiming, “It has surpassed any other problem.” Web junkies, he explains, are not using the Internet for research and homework. They are instead addicted to games. “They are the same as heroin addicts,” he insists.
Parents are often at their wits’ end and many must borrow money to pay for the program. They tell, sometimes through tears, of losing their children to the malady. “He changed into a different person,” one desperate mother says. Most young patients have withdrawn from family life. Some stop bathing. Others are so reluctant to take breaks from playing video games with their online partners that they wear diapers to avoid bathroom trips. As is often the case with other addictions, family disruption and estrangement are common. One anguished father admits he had become too hard on his Internet-obsessed child.
Web Junkie is a frank portrayal of China’s unique treatment program that also raises questions, especially for Western viewers. “Will these techniques be successful?” Shlam and Medalia ask. “Is this militaristic treatment effective or advisable? Is it possible to ‘cure’ these young kids? And on the topic of human rights, is it enough that the government requires only the parents’ agreement in order to hold these children against their will?”
The “cure” question is left wide open. One patient says Internet addiction “is not a real disease. It’s a social phenomenon.” But another insists, “My life is more real than before” since going through the program, which ends with sessions of family reconciliation. At one session, a patient is required to tell his father he loves him 30 times.
One departing patient, however, delivers a line echoed during exits from treatment centers everywhere, indicating that some positive behavior modification has taken place: “Dude, I don’t want to come here ever again.” As more countries focus on Internet addiction, the Chinese treatment may become the template for the wider world’s response. The young patients of Web Junkie may be riding the wave of the future.
Addiction is a strong and harmful need to regularly have something or do something. For most people, moderate and self-regulated internet use remains the norm, but with our new generation being born using the web, it’s is important to properly understand this new addiction. The disorder is marked by excessive (non-productive time spent online). Just like all the addictions we talk about, the signs are:
- Deteriorating friendships, job performance and home life.
- Unrealistic levels of happiness from spending more time online.
- Feeling angry of depressed when unable to be online.
- Lying about internet habits or feeling guilty.
- Restlessness when not online.