The tragic and brutal death of a Chinese teen at an internet addiction treatment ‘boot camp’ has rekindled a growing sense of outrage at how addiction is treated at some rehabs in Asia. As headlines like this continue to emerge, how can parents separate the good operators from the bad?
A Chinese teenager has died after spending a mere 48 hours at an internet addiction treatment centre in China’s Anhui province. This is one of a string of shocking incidents related to ‘boot camp’ rehab centres and has ignited fury across the nation regarding what many consider to be unacceptably harsh practices at these centres.
The 18-year-old was enrolled by his parents in a boot camp designed to treat internet and gaming addiction. According to the BBC, his mother said her son had developed an internet addiction that she and her father were unable to help him with. They decided to enrol him at a rehab centre in Fuyang city that advertised a combined regimen of ‘psychological counselling and physical training’ to treat internet addiction.
Two days after their son was dropped off at the centre, they received a phone call saying that he had been rushed to the hospital, where he eventually died. The mother said her son’s body was “covered in scars”, and medical examiners reported an excess of 20 external injuries along with internal injuries.
The exact cause of death was unclear, but it appears that the young man’s treatment went well beyond the bounds of counselling or physical training. The authorities have shut down the centre and detained its director and four teaching staff.
The Problem with Boot-Camp-Style Internet Addiction Rehab
This story is by no means an isolated event. Internet addiction rehab centres in China have developed a reputation for brutal treatment methods. Many of these centre are marketed as using military tactics to break the cycle of addiction, and some parents view this as a last resort to get their teens away from the screens that dominate their lives.
As far back as 2009, China’s Ministry of Health formally recognised internet addiction – as well as the need to eliminate abusive treatments such as physical restraints. More recently, draft legislation was put forward to outlaw the use of electroshock therapy as treatment for Internet addiction.
The need to create such legislation has become painfully evident, as a series of disturbing stories involving young people in internet boot camps in China. One of the most shocking occurred last year, when a 16-year-old reportedly restrained and murdered her mother after spending four months at such a centre where she alleges she was abused.
Chinese parents are understandably concerned about the seriousness of internet addiction and the problems it can create in their children’s lives. But the population at large is showing outrage at the lengths some of these treatment centres take to address the problem.
So what does a healthy addiction treatment centre look like, and how are parents to know the difference?
Internet Addiction in Asia Has Parents Justifiably Worried
Internet addiction rates in some Asian countries are higher than in the West. The reason for this is complex and only partially understood. Some point to the proliferation of gaming culture. Others speculate that the high academic demands placed on students in some Asian countries creates a more profound need to withdraw or escape into virtual spaces.
Internet addiction can create serious problems in a young person’s life – both academically and socially. Desperate to provide their teens with the help they need, parents are looking to extreme, well-marketed centres that advertise extreme tactics and guarantee serious results. It’s a last resort in many cases.
A disciplinary approach to rehab begins with the false assumption that addiction is somehow akin to a moral failure. Some view it as a direct result of a lack of willpower than a brain-based disease, as it’s now recognised.
Effective Internet Addiction Rehab Programmes Treat the Whole Person
For rehab in Asia to be effective, it must take a more holistic approach to treatment. All addictions – from drug or alcohol addiction to internet addiction – operate on the brain in the same way. They result from a malfunctioning reward centre that has been effectively rewired to seek positive affirmation from harmful activities or compulsive behaviours.
Rehabs that advertise strong disciplinary measures, military tactics and extreme results are best avoided. Instead, look for those that take a more holistic approach to treatment. For example, some rehabs that target young people incorporate physical training without going to boot-camp extremes.
They also incorporate group therapy and one-on-one counselling and follow up by connecting their clients with support networks. This helps them maintain a healthy relationship with the internet after the programme completes.
There are reputable rehab centres across Asia – from Bangkok to Hong Kong, Singapore to Dhaka. If you need help finding a trusted and above-board treatment near you that can help a loved one overcome their internet addiction, please feel free to contact us for a consultation.