Most people don't realize that hours spent surfing online could be a
symptom of Internet Addiction Disorder. Now German parents whose
children show signs of the affliction can send them to a unique camp to
the butt of jokes and ridicule, Internet addicts are seen as geeky
types who sit for hours on end in darkened rooms, converse only in chat
rooms and have virtual relationships with the complete strangers who
live thousands of miles away. In the cold light of every day
life, such people seem at odds with the normal
world around them.
While perhaps extreme, few realize that
this stereotype lifestyle is very much the standard existence for
many Internet addicts and that rather from being a joke, it is a
huge problem that is affecting the Web generation all over the world.
Germany, too, has its share of cases.
Although there are no exact statistics, experts say the number of
Internet addicts in the country is close to 1 million, which
amounts to about 3 percent of the German online population.
"The percentage has remained steady, but the
number of Internet users has risen (over the past two years) from
25 to 30 million," André Hahn of the market research organization
Research International told Deutsche Welle in a recent interview.
Much of the increase in Internet
addiction is among children and young teenagers who spend increasing
amounts of time playing computer games or surfing the Internet. And
because Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) has a very loose framework of
diagnosis and is yet to be recognized formally as a chronic
psychological problem, it goes unaddressed by many parents.
Even more have no idea that help is at hand.
First Intenet addiction camp in Europe
seeking professional help now can take advantage of a
new project, a summer camp in the seaside town of Boltenhagen,
northern Germany. Set up by the German social security
services, it is the first camp of its kind in Europe and aims to
wean children off computers by showing them that other aspects of life
can be just as enthralling.
on one of the most beautiful coastal strips on the Baltic Sea, the
children are encouraged to spend as much time as possible outdoors with
daily computer allowance curtailed to 30 minutes only. There is just
one computer on the site which can be used for half an hour a day --
but not for playing games or surfing the net.
morning there are counseling sessions held by the camp psychologist
followed by supervised physical activities at the beach such as
swimming, volleyball and aerobics. Quite a change for the
self-confessed addicts who admit to using the web and computer games
for up to six hours a day to escape the boredom of everyday life.
Unregulated use at home
Germany, many school children spend only about four and a half hours a
day at school, often coming home at 1.30 p.m. to an empty house if the
parents are at work. Without supervision, the time between their
arrival and the time their parents come home from work can often be
spent surfing, mailing, chatting and playing games on the computer in a
Demand for the 60 places has been so high since
the camp opened in February that getting a spot can been
difficult. The course at the camp lasts for 28 days and in the final
week, parents are invited to attend and participate in the counseling
and activities in an attempt to understand the problems and dangers
facing their children.
what is so damaging about time spent in front of a computer? Many
people at work spend eight hours a day in front of a screen; does
this mean all those people who work at a keyboard are addicts too?
Looking for signs of MOUSE
Research carried out by experts at the University
of Florida in the United States has pinpointed a number of factors
important in determining whether someone suffers from IAD or not.
According to Nathan Shapira of the university’s Brain Institute,
Internet activity becomes troublesome when it interferes with someone's
job or social life.
The researchers have compiled the problems
central to the disorder under the acronym MOUSE: More than intended
time spent online; Other responsibilities neglected; Unsuccessful
attempts to cut down; Significant relationship discord because of use;
and Excessive thoughts or anxiety when not online.
The problems the children experience are mostly
related to social interaction and physical ailments caused by bad diet
and lack of exercise. Children tend to spend hours at the computer
alone, snacking rather than eating regular meals. One of the children
at the camp, Daniel, who is 13, weighs 110 kilograms, has no friends at
school and has been in constant trouble with his teachers. On average,
he would spend four hours a day in front of the computer and a further
eight in front of the television. These are typical manifestations of
the disorder in children, according to Dr. Simone Trautsch, the camp
Building confidence and esteem
Dr. Trautsch offers advice in her counseling
sessions on how to make friends, maintain a healthy diet and build
self-confidence. Many of the children have stepped back from society
completely and have lost the ability to interact with other people.
The camp organizers say that first results have
been encouraging, with most of the children returning home with at
least some of their self-confidence restored. More importantly
perhaps, they also leave determined to make some changes in
their once-Internet dominated lifestyle.