Documentary Examines Boot Camps for Media-Addicted Kids


The documentary “Web Junkie”, soon to be shown on PBS, examines Chinese children’s excessive use of computer games and may have relevance for American parents who have children who spend hours each day in front of a screen.

The film addresses the tragic effects on teens in China who have become addicted to video games and who play for dozens of hours without eating, sleeping, or using the bathroom. Some, writes Jane E. Brody of The New York Times, have come to see the real world as artificial.

Rehabilitation centers have been established to treat what Chinese doctors are calling a clinical disorder, where kids are confined sometimes for months, isolated from all media, and undergo therapy that is often draconian. None of these methods, so far, have been proven to be effective.

This addiction to media is not referred to as a clinical disorder in the US, but many American young people start at an early age to use technology to entertain themselves and spend more time on these devices than experts consider healthy. A Kaiser Family Foundation study in 2010 reported the average 8- to 10-year-old spends almost eight hours a day on varying media devices, and older children and teens spend more than 11 hours per day with media. Television use takes first place timewise, but computers, tablets, and cellphones follow closely.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no exposure to any electronic media before the age of two because children of this age learn best by interaction with people. Older kids and teens should spend only one or two hours per day with entertainment media and then spend more free time outdoors, reading, doing hobbies, and using their imaginations in free play.

While some parents limit the time their children can spend in front of a TV or computer, two-thirds of kids surveyed in the Kaiser study reported their parents had no rules at all concerning time spent on media, writes Nicole Oran of the MedCity News.

“We’re throwing screens at children all day long, giving them distractions rather than teaching them how to self-soothe, to calm themselves down,” Catherine Steiner-Adair, a Harvard-affiliated clinical psychologist and author of “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age” told The New York Times.

Spending so many hours in front of a screen can also cause a desensitization from violence and, at some point, can become a detriment to children’s learning abilities. Kids who see a lot of simulated violence can become less empathetic and may act out violently, according to Dimitri A. Christakis of the Seattle Children’s Research Institute.

NewsMax’s Sylvia Booth Hubbard references a statement made by Drew Altman, Ph.D., President and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation:

The amount of time young people spend with media has grown to where it’s even more than a full-time work week. When children are spending this much time doing anything, we need to understand how it’s affecting them – for good and bad.”

So, is the Chinese boot camp effective? Is it curing the affected kids? Should teens undergo this kind of treatment?

One teen who was filmed as he left the facility said, “Dude, I don’t ever want to come here again.”