'Net fasting' camp curbs teenage online usage

'Net fasting' camp curbs teenage online usage

The government has successfully conducted a trial "Net fasting" camp aimed at keeping Internet-addicted teenagers away from smartphones and computers.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry said a trial run was conducted in August last year. According to a survey conducted three months later, daily Internet usage fell by about 30 per cent.

The ministry plans to run the camp in earnest from this fiscal year. The test run had "certain effects as they became aware of interesting aspects of life in the real world," according to a ministry official, "by distancing themselves from an online environment and starting to build new human relationships."

A fiscal 2014 Cabinet Office survey indicates middle school students spend an average two hours and 10 minutes online during weekdays and three hours and five minutes for high school students. High school students using the Internet for at least five hours a day accounted for 19 per cent. The hours tended to become longer year after year.

In some cases, addicted students started skipping school. Seeking appropriate measures, the education ministry decided to hold a nine-day, eight-night camp last summer by outsourcing the project to the National Institution for Youth Education.

Ten male participants, ranging from middle school to university students who spent an average 10 hours a day online, experienced life without smartphones as they stayed at the National Chuo Youth Friendship Center in Gotemba, Shizuoka Prefecture.

There were plenty of activities including a hike to Mt. Fuji as well as a barbecue party. They also received treatment and counseling from doctors at the National Hospital Organisation's Kurihama Medical and Addiction Center in Kanagawa Prefecture, which has a special out-patient clinic to treat Internet addiction.

A survey conducted three months after the camp showed that daily average Internet use for participants was reduced to 6.8 hours. Three out of seven students who skipped school and played online games at home all the time for nearly two years were found to be attending school every day as of February this year. One of their parents said their child had started studying for an hour each day at home.

But some of the participants regressed back to their old habits later on, after a brief period of spending less time online. "The camp motivated them to spend less hours online, but being able to keep that up depends on their situation at home," an official at the centre said.

This fiscal year, programs such as cooking will be prepared. The education ministry intends to promote the camp.

"Various activities at the camp enabled participants to be able to express themselves and reflect on their Internet-addicted lives through additional treatment," said Susumu Higuchi, head of the centre. "It's necessary to keep an eye on them in the future."

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