The Dark, Deadly Side of China's Internet Addiction Camps

PHOTO: Teenagers assemble at the Internet Addiction Treatment Centre in the southeastern suburb of Daxing, near Beijing, China on March 1, 2007.AFP/Getty Images
Teenagers assemble at the Internet Addiction Treatment Centre in the southeastern suburb of Daxing, near Beijing, China on March 1, 2007.

Chinese teens glued to their smartphones and video games have been treated in military-style boot camps since the country made Internet addiction an official disorder in 2008.

But the strict camps haven't been entirely successful, according to experts who question controversial tactics like strenuous physical activity, and sometimes, abuse. Several young people have reportedly died at the camps, according to state-sanctioned media in China.

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This week, supervisors at a camp in China's Henan province reportedly beat a 19-year-old girl to death when she failed to ask permission to use the bathroom, The Beijing News reported. Other reported deaths at Internet addiction camps across the country include a 14-year-old boy struck with a baton and pipe for being unable to do push-ups, according to the Los Angeles Times, and a 15-year-old beaten less than a day after arriving at camp.

Some American experts don't think the answer to treating Internet addiction lies in boot camps.

"For a treatment to work, it needs to last," Jenny Taitz, a clinical psychologist at the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy in New York, told ABC News. "And the very nature of a camp is that you can only stay there temporarily."

PHOTO: Teenagers make their way into the Internet Addiction Treatment Centre in the southeastern suburb of Daxing, near Beijing, China on March 1, 2007.AFP/Getty Images
Teenagers make their way into the Internet Addiction Treatment Centre in the southeastern suburb of Daxing, near Beijing, China on March 1, 2007.

For an addict to change, motivation has to come from within, Taitz added.

"At a camp, people are telling you what to do. A more humanistic approach is much more likely to lead to long-standing change," she said.

Taitz teaches Internet addicts mindfulness, meditation and emotion regulation tools to control their urges to reach for their smartphones or tablets.

"I'm a clinician who bases my entire practice on evidence-based treatment, and I've never heard of a boot camp treatment in my scouring of evidence-based research," Taitz said.

Internet addiction camps have been known to use forced physical activity and controversial tactics like electroshock therapy, which China's Ministry of Health banned in 2009.

China has an estimated 24 million Internet addicts, China Daily reported.