To Electroshock or Not? The Chinese Debate How to Cure Internet Addiction
Last April two Chinese youth associations jointly launched guidelines in the hopes of preventing Chinese children from becoming addicted to the Internet.
According to the guidelines, if you go online for more than six hours a day, three months in a row, you are an Internet addict.
The guidelines have spurred an instant uproar in China as many Internet users would be labeled as addicts — or mental patients — if the new guidelines were used in the context of a clinical diagnosis. The guidelines, regarded by many as brainless, seem to ignore the fact that being online is an inalienable part of daily life. In response to harsh criticism from the public and ruthless ridicule from the media, the guidelines’ creators have added new talking points which explain that the guideline is only applied to minors.
This re-calibrated discourse has immediately set off another angry crowd: parents. According to the latest research, four million Chinese children are regarded as Internet addicts under the guidelines. To make matters worse, the news media is tirelessly narrating the story of children who have fallen victim to Internet addiction, vividly depicting the misery of parents whose children skip school, run away from home, resort to stealing and in some cases even rob and beat their parents. For parents, the guidelines are a revelation: yes, my child has problem, and it is a mental one.
In response to the guidelines, recovery clinics — described as “concentration camps” by some of the juvenile patients — specializing in treating Internet addiction are now popping up throughout China. Parents who send their children to these clinics, or camps, believe deeply that they are ill. In most cases, children go into the camps involuntarily, and these camps aren’t situated downtown, in a deliberate move to cut them off from any Internet access. Inmates can’t leave the camp for two to three months if they are to be completely cured (which is what most clinics promise).
Daily life for the children in these camps involves endless military-like training including long distance running and other drills. They also have to attend real life classes (something children accustomed to living their lives in virtual “World of Warcraft” worlds aren’t quite familiar with) in an effort to help them rediscover what it means to be part of an actual team.
The most horrifying aspect of these camps is that children are subjected to electroshock therapy. A therapist asks a question such as: do you still want to go online? Before the child can give a yes or no answer, the therapist presses a button and an electric current is sent through the child’s body, creating a moment of spasms. Therapists defend this treatment, saying that the electric current is not life-threatening, and that its purpose is to make patients feel numb or torpid toward Internet stimuli. In the end, they hope, inmates will feel nausea whenever the word “Internet” is mentioned.
However, people outside the camp don’t buy it. With gruesome stories trickling out from the camps (most of the time via patients), there has been unrestrained outcry and anger on the web, mostly coming from young people who fear they will be sent to these camps by their paranoid parents. The drama reached a climax when a Guangxi patient died inside the camp–not from electroshock therapy–but from a beating by his therapist.
Finally, China Health Ministry has stepped into the picture and called off the practice of electric shock therapy in order to appease public resentment. But the problem is that there is no endgame. The Ministry’s announcement was followed moments after by a denouncement from the parents of “addicted” children, claiming that the Ministry has taken away their final hope to save their children. Some parents believe they see an improvement in their children’s behavior–whether temporarily or permanently–after shock therapy.
On the other side of the Pacific, the US is taking note of what’s happening in China. America’s very first Internet addiction clinic opens in Washington this August.
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