Logging out of an Internet addiction

Updated: 2013-12-13 08:06

By Yang Yang (China Daily)

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Logging out of an Internet addiction

Addicts attend a Chinese culture class. Seventy 'problem teenagers' receive special treatment at Beijing Qide Education Center, where they hope to find a cure for their addiction to the Internet. Photos by Zou Hong / China Daily

Reality gap

It is internationally acknowledged that children aged around 16 are prone to depression, because at that age they have come to understand the gap between childhood dreams and adult reality, but are temporarily unable to do anything about it, said Tao. He added that 48 percent of his patients are high school students, 20 percent are college students and the rest are at middle school. The youngest is an 8-year-old, whose "nanny" was a series of computer games.

"When they're young, children are encouraged by their parents and teachers to build up rosy future dreams, such as becoming a great scientist or a hero in another profession. But for some, their poor performance at school is disappointing and frustrating. In the most extreme cases, some children who lack confidence will reject reality and retreat into an imaginary world," he said.

"That's why some children become addicted to online games where they can play the hero. Others read fantasies in which they can imagine themselves to be the hero," he said. "Once they are separated from the games or fantasies, they feel depressed and anxious."

Cheng Hang loves reading comic books and playing computer games based on the stories about Three Kingdoms (AD 220-280), his favorite period in Chinese history.

Before 2008, Tao's center offered one-on-one treatment, but follow-up research found a failure rate of 70 percent once the patients had left the hospital. Since then, the center has organized group treatment sessions, in which eight to 12 patients form a small class for lessons, including growth education. The patients also share and analyze each other's stories.

The recovery rate gradually improved, rising to 50 percent, and in 2009 the center introduced the concept of "companion parents", where the parents stay with their children as a form of comfort. That saw the recovery rate rise as high as 75 or 80 percent. Parents also take lessons in educating their children.

In September, Bradford Regional Medical Center in Pennsylvania launched the United States' first hospital-based Internet addiction treatment and recovery program. Kimberly Young, the program director, has been studying Internet addiction since 1995. In an e-mail response to questions from China Daily, she wrote, "We in the US now offer the same type of clinical services offered in China.

"Our program is a 10-day inpatient regime that can be expanded to 21 days, depending on the needs of the patient. It is a dual-diagnosis clinic, so people must have a second disorder such as depression or anxiety, and it is based on my model Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Internet Addiction."

Young's CBT-IA model has proved extremely successful and variations of it are now used in addiction centers around the world. The difference is that instead of the quasi-military training used at Tao's center, addicts in Germany take on part-time jobs, while in other countries they raise animals, for example, dogs in Japan and horses in South Korea.

"We don't have enough space to keep pets, but military training provides the patients with a routine, getting up at 6 am and going to bed at 9 pm, which is similar to keeping pets," said Tao.

After meeting Tao at the center, Cheng and his mother decided to stay and undergo a six-month course, which costs 8,400 yuan a month for treatment plus 900 yuan for living expenses. Parents are allowed to stay with their children free of charge.

"My son always retreats when faced with difficulties. I regret that I was too strict with him when he was little. I don't know if the treatment will work, but I can't give up on him," said Cheng's mother.

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