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S. Korean teens spending summer in gaming and smartphone rehab
Updated: 2019-08-13 13:16:26 KST
For 21 hours a day, 14 year-old Kim has been playing video games, throughout the night before she goes to school.

"I started getting dizzy and shaking at school. And I can't focus in class and my grades have dropped a lot. I just keep thinking about gaming and imagine my fingers on the keyboard."

But Kim doesn't see herself stopping anytime soon.
She sometimes worries she'll never achieve her dream of becoming a novelist.
That's one of the reasons why she's spending her summer holiday in rehab.
In the mountainous county of Muju, a camp for teenagers like Kim who are addicted to gaming and smartphone usage, keeps them well beyond the reach of digital screens.
For two to four weeks, they learn to reconnect with reality, through individual and group counselling, community service, and creative activities, learning that their hands can do much more than clicking and scrolling.

"Here in this group therapy session, teenagers here are writing a book about their lives in the future, how they have achieved their dreams by overcoming their addictions to gaming and smarphone usage."

An essential part of the program is building social connections.

"As more and more children use digital media from an early age, their offline, social bonds become weaker. Many addicts show a lack of social interaction, so much of our programs here are dedicated to helping our teens socialise and develop friendships."

Given the popularity of online gaming in Korea, with children spending an average of 44 minutes on gaming every day, Korea has been taking measures to curb unhealthy habits.

"Korea's been proactive in dealing with gaming addiction. There's a law that bans under-16s from playing games after midnight, as well as specified indicators of gaming addiction: when gaming becomes the center of your life; craving and withdrawal symptoms; and when you stop eating, sleeping, going to school, putting things off or socialising properly. If these signs subsist for 12 months, you are considered addicted."

The World Health Organisation earlier this year classified gaming addiction as a mental disorder, a move that could enable national health authorities to adopt more systematic control and treatment over the condition.
However, there's been a backlash from the gaming industry on adopting the WHO standards, citing a lack of scientific proof that gaming addiction is a legitimate illness.
But for the teenagers here at this camp, the addiction is real and it has consumed their lives.
Oh Soo-young, Arirang News, Muju.
Reporter : osy@arirang.com