A teen death at an internet addiction treatment center has sparked more criticism over the controversial institutions.
An 18-year-old had just been admitted to the treatment center in Fuyang City, eastern Anhui Province, on Aug. 3. After a mere two days, members of the center’s staff informed his parents that their son had been rushed to hospital where he later died.
The center’s director and four staff members were held for questioning by local police. The treatment center was shut down for an investigation.
His parents decided to send him to the treatment center when they felt they were unable to help their son address his internet addiction.
A postmortem revealed that Ms. Liu’s son had suffered at least 20 external injuries, in addition to several internal injuries.
“My son’s body was completely covered with scars, from top to toe. … When I sent my son to the center he was still fine, how could he have died within 48 hours?” the mother told Chinese media Anhui Shangbao.
China has approximately 731 million internet users. Around 24 million of these are considered to be addicted youth reported The Telegraph. That is approximately 10 percent of the online youth population.
Starting in 2005, it is estimated that at least 250 youth treatment centers have appeared across China, offering services to help parents with the treatment of addictions and/or rebellious behavior, reported South China Morning Post. Parents can forgo 30,000 yuan ($5,000) to institutionalize their children, according to the BBC.
Many of these centres are located on military bases and are essentially re-education centers according to Hilla Medalia, an Israeli director in a BBC interview. There are also private centers and schools.
The attendees are put through rigorous physical training. Military drills are employed to improve attendees “bad” physical shape and train discipline that facility directors believe will help wean the youngsters off their addiction. Attendees are asked to perform practical tasks such as preparing vegetables.
In addition to physical training, the treatment centers also provide psychological counseling, electroshock therapy, and prescribe medication if deemed necessary. The medication may include sedatives and antidepressants, according to The Telegraph.
But several cases of patient abuse have been reported over the years. Several of these facilities have come under investigation by local officials following evidence of harsh corporal punishment methods used by staff. Attendees have reported severe beatings and sleep-deprivation.
One girl who was admitted to an academy in Shandong told The Paper that she felt she had lived “a life without dignity” at the facility.
Concerned community members have been quick to point out that many youth at these facilities are forced into this method of treatment against their will, according to BBC.
Trent Bax, an internet addiction researcher at South Korea’s Ewha Womans University, said that many parents send their children to these facilities as they are promised “quick fix” solutions to their child’s struggles through “emotive power advertising” that have been widely publicized since 2014.
The tragic deaths occurring in these facilities continue to fuel debate around whether parenting attitudes are partly to blame.
Mingguang Daily noted in an editorial, “Some parents, upon discovering the problem, fail to reflect on their responsibility to educate, and instead want to seek third parties’ help in solving the problem.”
China’s failed one-child policy amplified certain societal pressures for Chinese youth. A candid interview with one youth revealed why some youths find the internet so appealing and are at risk of addiction, “My parents wanted me to study at home all day, and I was not allowed to play outside,” a teenager at the Qide Education Centre told SCMP.
Wang admitted that playing games on the internet, sometimes continuously for more than three days, provided him an avenue of escape from parental and social pressures in the highly competitive Chinese schooling system. Despite its negative impact on his school grades, Wang said, “I gained another feeling of achievement by advancing to the next level in the game.”
Media commentators have said the problem facing China’s youth highlights a lack of formal, professional, psychological counseling and support for communities, leaving parents of addicted children helpless to successfully address the problem.
The Beijing Times has warned parents against sending their children to these widely advertised facilities, “Do not send your children to such a ‘cage'” it says. “Using violent means only further hurts a child.”