China Desperate To Cure Internet Addicted Teenagers

Americans might complain that we’re “addicted” to our smartphones or hooked on electronics, but in China the term “Internet addiction” has an entirely different connotation.

So far, China is the only country to treat Internet addiction as a bona fide psychological disorder that requires intensive rehabilitation. On July 13, a documentary exploring Chinese Internet addicts will premiere on PBS. “Web Junkie” explores an Internet addiction rehab facility south of Beijing. Israeli filmmakers Shosh Shlam and Hila Medalia were nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2014 for their exploration of the facility, one of 400 such clinics in China.

Nicki is a 16-year-old Chinese teenager and patient, who was lured to the facility by his parents (they told him they were going skiing). According to “Web Junkie,” Nicki played the popular online fantasy game “World of Warcraft” for 10 hours every day. Patients like Nicki attend these military boot camp style rehabs, where they receive medication, therapy, and an intense exercise regimen.

Although Chinese officials call Internet addiction “electronic heroin,” not everyone is convinced it represents a real disorder. In the U.S., the authoritative (and sometimes controversial) “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” only notes that “Internet Addiction Disorder” requires additional research.

But no one disputes that consumers, especially Millennials and teens, are using the Web more and more. By 2013, 63% of adult cell phone users went online with their smartphones regularly, and mobile advertising revenue is expected to triple in size by next year as consumers spend more time surfing the Web with smartphones.

In Israel, for instance, kids between the ages of 11 and 15 spend at least four hours online each day. In China, there have been reports of teenagers who wear diapers to avoid losing any time “away from keyboard” while gaming. It’s worth noting that the U.S. “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” does list gambling as a legitimate addiction — and U.S. gamblers have also been known to wear diapers at the card table.

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