How often do you tell your kids they don't know how lucky they are? Do you say things like: "When I was young we didn't have no dang fool intertubes and online games?" and then force them to go outside and do something? Could it be that your kids have Internet Addiction Disorder?
No, I'm not kidding. There really is something called "Internet Addiction Disorder". According to Wikipedia, "IAD was originally proposed as a disorder in a satirical hoax by Ivan Goldberg MD in 1995. He took pathological gambling as diagnosed by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) as his model for the description of IAD. However, IAD receives coverage in the press, and its classification as a psychological disorder is being debated and researched."
In other words, IAD started as a joke but became a recognised (if disputed) syndrome. An argument for its inclusion in the next edition of the DSM (due out in 2012) is that doing so would allow medical insurance in the US to pay for counseling. The counter-argument is that "There's no evidence that needed treatment is being denied, as treatment is coded under existing labels according to the underlying symptoms."
Whatever IAD's status is in the West, in China it's considered an epidemic. Last year China estimated that of the country's 40 million underage internet users, some 10 percent were "addicted" to the web. Surveys discovered that about 42 percent of these kids said they felt addicted while only 18 percent of US children felt similarly. In other words, it appears that something in Chinese culture drives kids to become "addicted" to the net.
'At least six hours a day online'
Last year the Chinese Ministry of Health defined internet addiction as spending at least six hours online a day and showing at least one of a range of symptoms including "a yearning to get back online, fear of social contact and difficulty concentrating or sleeping". Doesn't that sound like most people in IT?
What is amazing in China is that since 2005 more than 3,000 internet addicts have checked into the Military General Hospital of Beijing, and it is reported that something like 80 percent are "cured" after three to six months of treatment.
While the Military General Hospital might resort to conventional therapies, one Dr Yang Yongxin from Linyi City's psychiatric hospital in Shandong province got a bit more serious in his treatments. Until a recent ban by the ministry of health Yang - and I swear I'm not making this up - was using electroconvulsive therapy.
Beijing News reported that Yang described his therapy as "xingnao" ("brain-waking") and admitted that the shock might cause pain but claimed it was very safe and would not harm children in any way. Are you kidding me? This "treatment" is akin to getting rid of gophers by using dynamite. If you're lucky the gophers will be eradicated but your grass is going to take a serious beating.
Apparently Chinese parents voluntarily commit their children to Yang's psychiatric boot camp for around £300 per month (which, by Chinese standards, is enormously expensive) and it appears that hundreds of other clinics across China have been using similar methods.
So, next time you worry that your kids might be too attached to their online games, their MySpace page and their instant messaging, you might warn them what parents do in China...