Monday, June 9, 2014

The Hidden Danger of Internet Addiction Mania: Sketchy Treatment Centers


If your loved one is plagued by turtleneck syndrome, characterized by a hunched forward posture causing numbness in the fingers or wrists, they may be suffering from an addiction to their smartphone, tablet, or other wifi-connected device. Poised to be the illness of the future, it’s likely Internet addiction will also be the next moneymaker for America’s multi-billion-dollar troubled teen industry. As the media jumps on study after study sensationalizing the amount of time tweens and teens spend online, we should be looking at regulating the programs marketed toward fixing the youngest pathologically screen-obsessed generation.

The United Stated has lagged behind Asia in diagnosing and treating Internet addiction. China’s Tao Ran opened the first treatment program in a Beijing military hospital in 2004 and South Korea soon followed suit with similar internet bootcamps, while internet addiction was only added as an appendix to the DSM in 2013. Better late than never, residential facilities across America are beginning to see a market in underage net addicts.

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. One of these programs, Liahona Academy, shared this infographic with Motherboard in an unsolicited email. The US, however, should look at the proliferation of internet bootcamps in China as a cautionary tale.

Over the past decade, hundreds of residential facilities for net-addicted teens have cropped up from Hebei to Guangxi. These facilities vary wildly. Ran, an expert in net addiction who holds a masters degree in medicine, runs a legitimate treatment program—the help he provides families is apparent in the independent documentary Web Junkies. But other facilities in the country are often run by quacks and snake oil salesman happy to pocket the yuan desperate parents are willing to fork over.

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