China Now Has Up to 250 Boot Camps to Cure Teens of Internet Addiction

One of these facilities recently opened in the US, too

Patients at an internet addiction boot camp in Guangzhou practice gardening. Photo: Fritz Hoffmann/In Pictures/Corbis

Back in 2007, the New York Times reported that China had opened up an "internet addiction boot camp"—a place where teens could be cured of excessive use of the internet: 

Patients, overwhelmingly male and aged 14 to 19, wake up in dormitories at 6:15 a.m. to do morning calisthenics and march on the cracked concrete grounds wearing khaki fatigues. Drill sergeants bark orders at them when they are not attending group and individual counseling sessions. Therapy includes patients simulating war games with laser guns.

The center's tough-love approach to breaking Internet addiction is unique to China, but necessary in a country with over two million teenage Internet addicts, according to the facility's staff.

Now, the boot camps have proliferated. Up to 250 of them exist in China, the Straits Times reports, and boot camps following the Chinese example have popped up in Korea as well. Teens are almost always committed to such facilities by worried parents who see their children's grades falling as they spend more and more time surfing the web or gaming. 

Several years ago, the U.S. created its own internet addiction boot camp. As Motherboard reports

America’s first Internet addiction treatment program, reSTART, which opened in 2009 in Seattle not far from Microsoft's headquarters, now has a youth program. And other behavioral modification programs usually targeted at rebellious and/or drug and alcohol-addled teens are adding Internet addiction to the laundry list of problems they solve.

The US, however, should look at the proliferation of internet bootcamps in China as a cautionary tale.

As Motherboard points out, whether or not the camps actually work is questionable, and in some cases, they might even cause more harm than good. One mother in China is suing a camp, claiming that her daughter's addiction only became worse after a stint at the facility, The Straits Times reports. In two extreme cases, boot camp patients died after being administered a beating as part of their therapy. 

Here, The New York Times reports directly from one such facility in China, exploring questions about the boot camp's efficacy and ethics: 

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