In China, Curing Addiction To The Virtual

petersen -- boot camp CBS

It's dawn as boot camp opens for business.

The camp looks military, reports CBS News correspondent Barry Petersen, but it's really an in-patient medical clinic, treating perhaps the world's newest disorder — Internet addiction.

How do you end up there? Ask 18-year-old Li Hongye. He says all he thought about was Internet games, even when he was sleeping.

A game with toy guns is part of therapy that only rich parents can afford — they're shelling out $1,200 a month, It's a game that gets kids back into the real world, playing with other kids — and not playing games like World of Warcraft, where kids can become one of the characters, or games that keep players enthralled by constantly challenging them with higher levels.

While some experts may dispute the idea of Internet addiction as a real disease, in China it has the government stamp of approval, Petersen says.

To prove how dangerous this addiction can get, authorities showed videotape of 13 year-old Zhang Xiaoyi on nationwide TV — in the elevator of a building before he then jumped to his death. His suicide note said he wanted out of this world so he could live in the virtual world.

But the government concern may have another motive: fear of what it can't control.

"The Chinese government is very clear that assembling an organization that is not within the government system is not permitted, for anywhere From a chess club, a book club, all the way to a political party." said Anne Stevenson-Yang, director of Beijing consulting firm, J.L. McGregor.

Trainer Jing Ya'nan sees a younger generation facing something new in China: the intense need to succeed. She says parents push their kids into the best colleges to get rich, and that if kids can't fulfill those goals, they abandon themselves in the Internet.

Some cases require medications, and the worst can include mild shock therapy.

Director Dr. Ran Tao says 70 percent of the kids who leave the camp are cured. "We replace bad habits with exercise, eating meals and sleeping at regular times," he says. "Good habits change their future."

China has only a handful of clinics like this, but with Internet use exploding, it may soon need a lot more to rescue those who find themselves trapped in the Web.

  • Christine Lagorio

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