TIME

China’s Internet Boot Camps Are on the Rise

There may be as many as 250 in China, and the phenomenon has already spread to the U.S.

When you think boot camps, what do you picture? Involuntary incarceration? Behavioral modification? Military-style discipline?

If you said yes to the above, you’d be correct—and now, these techniques are being widely applied to fight internet addiction in China. Recently, The Straits Times reported that there “are as many as 250 camps in China alone”; Smithsonian, for its part, adds that camps like those in China have surfaced in South Korea as well.

In 2007, the New York Times reported on the first of the military-style camps:

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 article concluded that the cause of addiction lay somewhere between parents’ expectations, a hyper-competitive environment, and the fear of failure.

But the boot camps aren’t unique to Asia. Last month, VICE wrote on America’s first internet addiction camp, reSTART, which opened in Seattle in 2009. It warned that the camps may do more harm than good, a conclusion that the Straits Times echoes:

Yet the regimen may not succeed for all. One Beijing education centre is being sued by a distraught mother who says her daughter’s addiction worsened after a course last year.

A cautionary tale, certainly.

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