Determined to escape the correctional facility where his mother put him to cure his internet addiction, a 14-year-old Chinese boy ate pencil lead.
Chen Wi (pseudonym), from Wuhan city in Hubei Province, spent most of his days playing online games. So obsessive were his habits that his mother decided he was addicted to the internet and sent him to a correctional facility to cure him of it. After his mother called the facility and explained Chen’s situation, two big men promptly came to take him away and escort him to the facility.
But it wasn’t long before the pressure of facility life began weighing down on Chen Wi, and after he witnessed an instructor beating a patient, he decided that his only way out of this nightmare was through death.
Fearing he would be on the receiving end of violence next, Chen Wi decided to commit suicide by eating lead from a mechanical pencil. Fortunately, his attempt failed and the commotion it caused led his mother to take him out of the facility.
Presently, China is said to have 538 million internet users. It is no surprise that internet addiction is a huge problem. According to a 2010 report, there are at least 24 million young people who suffer from internet addiction in China.
Unfortunately, the Chinese government provides no guidelines to define what “internet addiction” is or how to treat it. The term is grossly overused and as a result, ‘Internet Addiction Correction’ has become a rapidly growing industry, with facilities popping up that offer to cure addicts. Many don’t even distinguish whether their programs target addiction to ‘social media’ versus addiction to ‘on line games’ or other forms of the condition, and concerned parents are never given enough information to know any better.
With Chen Wi’s story, internet addiction has been brought to the forefront of media attention in China.
Reporters at Chinese newspaper People’s Daily posed as worried parents and were able to contact the correctional facility where Chen Wi went. On requesting the removal of their child from the facility, employees attempted to dissuade them for 30 minutes before they were finally granted a meeting with the headmaster. However, during the meeting, it was then the headmaster who insisted that the facility was the only way to cure the child from internet addiction, further trying to convince them not to take their child out. It was confirmed by Chen Wi’s mother that they used the same tactics on her when she came to pick up her son.
According to People’s Daily, curing kids of internet addiction is obviously not these facilities first priority. Money plays a big part in the facility not wanting parents to remove their kids from the program. The undercover reporters discovered the facility was charging $3185 US for a three month course, and there was even a ‘special’ treatment course for $6000 US.
The facilities claim this money is used to run a boot camp that aims to break patients addiction through physical training, building up both body and mind. But the correctional facility that Chen Wi took part in had only two instructors and physical training only took place once a week.
It has been a few months since Chen Wi returned from the correctional facility he was placed in. His mother reports that things have gotten worse for him since then. He suffers from bouts of paranoia and cannot even go to school any more. He can’t leave the house without carrying a pocket knife and even has one by his bed at night.
In 2010, the situation was bad enough another facility that some patients tied up their instructor and escaped. You don’t see people addicted to nicotine or alcohol going off to boot camp for a cure. Paying that kind of money to take care of something that could be taken care of by parental discipline in the first place is bad enough, but that it is made worse by people looking to make a quick buck is appalling.
Chen Wi’s mother laments her decision of putting him into the facility. “If I could do it over, I would have never put him in that correctional facility.”