Youth Internet Addiction Prevention Programs
-In order to make Seoul a healthy and safe area for children and adolescents in terms of internet use, this policy played a significant role in addressing prevailing the social issue of the Internet addiction among children and youths in Seoul and it would be helpful for them to lead healthy lifestyles.
Establishment of Five Centers and Balance of Programs at the Centers by 2012
The city of Seoul has achieved a regional balance in the supply of services by establishing a total of five “I Will Centers” gradually from 2007 to 2012. The centers frequently cooperate and communicate to effectively share each other’s experiences as to offer the best services possible.
School-oriented Services through Collaboration with Agencies by 2011
The Ministry of Gender Equality & Family, which is in charge of youth policies on the part of the central government, began a complete enumeration of youth Internet addiction among students across the country in 2009. Unlike other provinces and cities that have failed to follow through with survey results, Seoul took appropriate action with the children who were classified as suffering from Internet addiction or at high risk.
The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education issued a guideline in 2010 requesting the designation of an information ethics teacher in each school and implemented Internet addiction prevention education. The office also signed a partnership agreement with the “I Will Centers” of the city and assigned them to provide Internet addiction prevention education to schools. Without the cooperation between the Office of Education in the city and its 11 district offices and schools, all those prevention education initiatives, including personal and group counseling, would not have been possible.
Connection to Youth Facilities through National Administration Network in 2011
The fact that three out of five “I Will Centers” are located in Youth Training Centers in major districts equipped with complete infrastructures implies that the city government places a great emphasis on the connection with various youth facilities for a successful implementation of prevention education. All the five centers have been able to successfully carry out a variety of meaningful programs through collaboration with existing youth facilities, including family camps, various campaigns, special addiction prevention lectures, and parent education. In 2011, the Seoul Association of Youth Centers completed the online connection of all the youth training facilities in the city to the National Administration Network. Exchanges between the facilities have been improved. For example, the programs of “I Will Centers” can be advertised to these facilities in an instant.
Swift to Focus on Services Delivered on the Ground
Initially, “I Will Centers” focused on services provided inside facilities like many other counseling centers did. Given the characteristics of young Internet addicts and the necessity of widespread prevention education, the proportion of services provided outside the centers has risen. The centers have increased the number of experts, who go and see young people in need, from 8 in 2011 to 15 in 2012, and plan to increase it to 20 in 2013. The number of service beneficiaries continues to grow as well. In addition, the services in the schools, including group prevention education and individual and group counseling, are becoming one of the core undertakings of the centers.
Korea was witnessing the youth Internet addiction become a critical social issue, while systematic preventive measures were not being institutionalized. The Seoul Metropolitan Government took the initiative and set up “I Will Centers” to prevent addiction and provide recovery counseling, making significant contributions in leading the youth of the city to foster a healthy Internet culture.
Major Activities of “I Will Centers”
“I Will Centers” offer their services to not just children and adolescents, but also to parents. The major duties of the centers include counseling on Internet addiction, addiction prevention education, research, campaigns and advocacy. For counseling, the centers provide individual and group counseling, mentoring services, camps and alternative activities for addicts and those at risk for addiction alike. They send out specialists to those living in seclusion, making in-home counseling available. For Internet overuse prevention education, the centers offer children and adolescents tailored educational programs, depending on their physical and mental development stages, along with programs designed for parents and even teachers. As for research, the centers carry out studies and hold academic conferences on Internet addiction, prevention, and recovery. For advocacy, the centers carry out “healthy cyber culture” campaigns throughout the year, while also seeking further government support.
BACKGROUND & GOAL
The Korean government has promoted the development of its IT industry as well as the expansion of a high-speed Internet network since 1990. As a result, as of 2006, 88% of all Korean households were connected to super space-high-speed Internet services. Korea ranked third in the world in the ICT Development Index in 2007.
Such a remarkable development dramatically strengthened the country’s digital power. However, it has also brought on some negative side effects, such as Internet overuse, online game addiction and cyber crimes. As Internet services improved, situations worsened. Due to this there were some extreme cases highlighted by the media. Internet addiction has emerged as one of the most serious social problems in Korea since 2000, and efforts to deal with it have not come cheaply.
The Most Vulnerable Group: Youth in Big Cities with Individual or Family Vulnerability
The Korean government has conducted national surveys on Internet addiction every year since 2004. According to the results, the most vulnerable group for addiction is teens living in big cities. The 2005 data released by the National Information Society Agency in Korea showed that the addiction rate in big cities was 14.9% while the national average was 12.6%, with the highest at 16.6%. In terms of age group, 16~19 year olds were the most at risk at 18.3%.
In addition, survey after survey has shown that the most vulnerable group is youth lacking parental supervision, suffering from depression, ADHD or other psychological disorders, or having trouble adapting to their school life. It has become clear where the public group must focus its resources in its efforts to fight Internet addiction.
The Ripple Effects of Internet Addiction
Psychopathologists consider Internet addiction a behavioral problem. Experts in brain science parallel the brains of Internet or mass media addicts to those of chemical dependents. They warn that excessive Internet use by children and adolescents, whose brain development is still in progress, as opposed to adults, causes serious problems to their brain particularly in regards to frontal lobe atrophy, negatively impacting their thinking skills and impulse control.
Extreme cases have stunned the Korean society, such as the angry adolescent who killed his own parents because of their attempts to correct his Internet overuse habit, and the young couple who starved their baby to death, while instead tending to their Internet virtual child.
Very common problems due to excessive Internet use in Korea, includes ; physical problems like VDT (Visual Display Terminal) Syndrome; conflicts with family members over Internet overuse especially over access to violent or pornographic contents; various problems at school including school work neglect or poor academic performances; juvenile delinquency including habitual lying, thefts, or acts of violence; involvement in cyber bullying; and outright crimes like illicit Game Item transactions or cyber thefts.
Insufficient Preventive Education and Early Detection
The Korean government began taking a variety of measures in 2000, such as the development of Internet Addiction Measurements and Internet prevention and counseling programs, as well as carrying out numerous surveys. Yet the Internet has become a huge culture for young Koreans, overwhelming many aspects of their lives. Just one or two new institutions or policies are not able to contain the situation. Additionally preventive measures have been far from adequate. Treatment involvement was limited to the risk group. The city of Seoul with the highest Internet addiction rate in the country realized that it was necessary for the municipal government to control this problem as well.
Statistically speaking, our aim was to lower down the internet addiction rate among youth in Seoul to 5% or less by 2012.
1. A Regional Balance and Upgrade of the Services through Cooperation
The municipal government has expanded “I Will Centers” from one to five since 2007 in order to achieve a regional balance in the delivery of services, following the success of the Gwangjin center. The population of Seoul is approximately ten million with youth accounting for about 2.7 million. Traveling from across the city could take up to two hours. A regional balance was necessary and therefore a total of five centers were established. The youth can now access at least one of the centers easily.
2. Efficient service delivery through collaboration
The office of education collaborated with the central government to improve services to young Seoulites. It kept in close contact with the Ministry of Public Administration and Security and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. Making best use of the directions and strategies of the ministries, the city government has been able to provide increasingly better services. City Hall has also maintained a close cooperative relationship with Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education to deliver a significant portion of the services at schools, particularly programs intended for addiction prevention.
3. Delivery of Services at Facilities Frequented by Youth
In order to secure easier access to prevention and counseling services, the Seoul Metropolitan Government has promoted close cooperation between the “I Will Centers” and other public facilities frequented by youth, which include The Youth Counseling and Welfare Center, many Youth Culture Centers around the city, and a whole host of Afterschool Centers.
4. More Effective Delivery of Services at Schools and Homes
Youth addicted to the Internet tend to deny their problems and therefore rarely seek counseling services. Some of them have no desire lethargic to come to the centers. Others do not feel interested in addiction prevention programs offered at the centers as opposed to their intriguing Internet world. The center experts therefore come to schools for prevention education in particular, and to homes directly for more serious counseling and guidance services.
Obstacles And Overcome Method
It was critical to the expansion of the services and the current effectiveness of the services to draw on the cooperation from government agencies, educational institutions, and youth facilities. Securing cooperation between these government bodies has not always been easy due to their own objectives, priorities and interests. The city of Seoul and its “I Will Centers” have overcome the difficulties through the following endeavors.
In order to secure a successful coordination of efforts between the agencies of the central government and with educational supervisory boards on one end, and the city government on the other, the two sides tried to come to an agreement on the principles of cooperation and the division of roles. Next, the officials from the “I Will Centers” discussed details and reached an agreement with the public servants in charge at the agencies and supervisory boards. Such an approach to the coordination has resulted in a win-win situation for both parties and much more effective progress as opposed to a potentially confusing and ineffective individual approach at the level of each “I Will Center”.
Second, the outstanding competency of “I Will Centers” enabled the agencies partnerships to continue to prosper. From their positive working experiences with the centers, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, the Ministry of Public Administration and Security and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism have all come to recommend the centers as their preferred partners for Internet addiction prevention programs, because they know that they can count on the centers to passionately execute their common missions.
Third, the city government maintained the conviction that only through cooperation with other government agencies could the center services be delivered effectively to a vast number of young people. Although seeking collaboration with other agencies at times seems like a waste of time on the part of the city officials in charge, their agreement is necessary every step of the way, ranging from planning to reporting results. Indeed, the city has held on to the faith that doing so makes it possible for it to provide help to more young people in need, including juvenile delinquents, and disabled children.
1. Budget Priority on the Initiative
The Seoul Metropolitan Government is allocating quite a substantial amount of its budget to the prevention of Internet addiction among youth. The budget for the program is one of just a few welfare programs that have increased despite an economic recession and a subsequent budget squeeze imperative to the city. In 2012, the city allocated 2.7 billion won ($2.5 million US) to the cause. The amount will increase in 2013 with the establishment of an additional “I Will Center.” This signifies not just the urgency of the issue, but also the efficacy of the centers in producing tangible results.
2. Increased Access through Free Programs
In addition to the municipal government’s efforts to allocate more financial resources, the centers have done their best to conserve as much as possible, especially in overhead costs, so they are able to provide critical services free of charge to not only young people in need, but also their families. These people have been able to take advantage of free counseling, mentoring, therapeutic playing activities, camps, and medical bills incurred from Internet addiction treatment. Free addiction prevention education is being provided to most of the primary schools in Seoul. Seoulites without disabilities or additional hardships are requested to pay a small amount of money, 5 ~ 30 (USD) per session, for various levels of counseling.
3. High Quality Services at Low Cost
Each “I Will Center” is staffed with 10 full-time employees and more than 50 professional counselors and prevention instructors, all of whom are employed on the basis of one-year contracts, so that the center can provide high quality services at low costs. The professionals working at the centers all hold master’s degrees or higher and have successfully completed special training related to Internet addiction. Such high standards required of the experts guarantee top quality services provided by the centers.
4. Additional Resources Secured through Close Collaboration with Agencies and Facilities
The centers have been able to provide more abundant services with more enriched energy by securing additional resources through their collaboration with other government agencies and facilities as follows:
(1). The Ministry of Gender Equality & Family: The city can secure the list of any youth classified as being in danger of addiction, through the ministry’s census of students across the country. The city may also receive partial support from the ministry for its “Rescue Camps” aimed at children in this category.
(2). The Ministry of Public Administration and Security: The city can receive the results of the ministry’s annual national survey of Internet addiction while also coordinating with its programs related to the fight against Internet addiction.
(3). Linked Hospitals: The city can receive diagnoses of and treatments for additional symptoms including depression and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) from the linked hospitals as well as counseling in mental health.
(4). District Offices of Education and Schools: The city can publicize its programs and urge participation in them through the district offices of education and schools. School hours can be used for the education of preventative measures against Internet addiction.
(5). Regional Youth-oriented Facilities: The city can be supported by these facilities in the procurement of a variety of youth activity programs. The facilities can also be used as a conduit for communication to youth in various situations and circumstances.
(6). Associations of Psychological Counseling: The city receives cooperation, case supervision and research talent supply from the associations for the development, evaluation and improvement of programs targeting Internet addiction counseling and prevention.
(7). Linked Mass Media: The city can maximize the publicity effects of major campaigns against Internet addiction by jointly holding the events with the mass media.
RESULT AND EVALUATION
“I Will Centers” have recorded significant achievements in Internet addiction counseling and prevention efforts since 2007, when the first of these centers opened in southern Seoul. The number of counseling and preventive services offered was 5,900 in 2007; it increased to 749,000 in 2012, increasing more than 100 times over. There have been a total of 1.7 million cases between 2007 and 2012.
According to a school screening survey, the Internet addiction ratio among students from primary to high schools in Seoul was 10% in 2009. It dropped to 6.9% in 2010 and 5.4% in 2011, reflecting the effects of Internet addiction prevention efforts.
Achievement in service quality and satisfaction survey
Along with the service expansion, “I will Centers” have improved their services year after year. For example, “Gwangjin I will Center” recorded a 77% program satisfaction rate in 2010. It rose to 88% in 2011. “Myoungji I Will Center” had a satisfaction rate of 87% in 2011 and 88% in the first half of 2012 in its prevention programs for primary school students. The average class size dropped from 30 to 27 during the same period.
“I Will Centers” also offer the “Dream Tree Program,” an integrative long-term therapy program, targeting the young classified as having the highest risk of Internet addiction due to personal susceptibility or unfavorable family environments. The program has been especially highly praised by the family participants for its approach that attacks the root causes of addiction risks. A teacher who sat in on the long-term treatment program summed up the program by stating, “Because of the characteristics of the area my school is situated in, many of our children are from underprivileged families or broken homes. The "Dream Tree Program" has given such children from my school the hope that they can have a happy childhood by going out and getting engaged in various fun games and activities instead of sitting alone for hours on end playing Internet games on the computer."
The Seoul initiative to fight Internet addiction among the youth is highly likely to be sustainable in the following three respects.
Criticality of Internet Addiction
The first reason for the initiative’s sustainablity is one of its most critical problems. Children and adolescents’ obsession with the media and the accompanying problems are severe in Korea, as in many other places. The problem will not disappear on its own. Even more so, the age of addiction keeps decreasing, affecting younger children. The importance of healthy Internet use, at least until the brain is fully developed, cannot be overemphasized.
Effective Service through Collaboration with Other Agencies
The collaboration with other agencies can be a good model for other cities and countries that are seeking to provide highly efficient, high quality, easily accessible services to the public. Through networking Seoul has been able to deliver special services through “I Will Center” counselors to children leading secluded lives or to youth staying for hours in after-school study rooms. The initiative in Seoul is sustainable enough in that it draws sufficient resources from its collaborating agencies and facilities and it is systematically structured to provide high-quality services at relatively low costs, which is an important factor to an initiative’s economic sustainability.
A Pioneer in Programming to Fight Internet Addiction among Youth
The “I Will Centers” in Seoul are some of the first in the world to offer Internet addiction prevention and counseling programs tailored for the youth. Seoul prides itself on the fact that it is a pioneer in the area of Internet addiction counseling. The centers have tried a variety of prevention and counseling programs for the past six years, making amends and improvements from time to time. Those experiences can be a valuable asset to other cities and countries that would like to begin to address their own Internet addiction problems.
In terms of replication and dissemination of the programs and the operation of the centers, much attention has poured in from both home and abroad. The centers have taken a positive attitude and tried to disseminate what they have acquired to others, holding conferences, workshops and press conferences.
Attention by Potential Experts in Counseling and Youth Problems
Korea, including Seoul, is still suffering from a serious shortage of personnel trained in the issue of Internet addiction in particular, as well as youth issues in general. Through Internet addiction case conferences or counseling program conferences, the centers have attempted to share their valuable information with as many personnel and organizations in the field as possible. As such, every year, more than 200 people attend the center’s reporting conference.
Attention by Local Governments at Home and Abroad
The “I Will Center” project is a success story in that the municipal government has taken initiative in solving the youth Internet addiction problem and that it has successfully sought the cooperation of the central government as a partner. Provincial and municipal governments have sent delegates to the city and the centers to benchmark successful cases, including the operation and programs of the centers. In November 2012, the efforts of Seoul were acknowledged by “The Guangzhou International Award for Urban Innovation, in ” China.
So far, NHK (Japan),Canal Plus and Radio France (France), Press TV(Iran), and the AP and the LA Times (U.S). have reported on the operation of the “I Will Centers” and their programs. The international organizations that have paid a visit to the centers to learn about the measures against youth Internet addiction include the National Institute of Educational Policy Research, the Japanese Ministry of Education; the Japanese Embassy to Korea; Osaka University; Nihon University, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. In October 2012, the centers were invited to give a presentation at an International Symposium of Internet Addiction and Internet Game Addiction held in Tokyo, Japan.
The centers are now taking opportunities to introduce their Internet addiction prevention programs at the Asia Youth Workers' Training Workshops held in Taipei, Taiwan, Jakarta, Indonesia, and Hanoi, Vietnam, October ~ December 2012, in collaboration with the Seoul Youth Center for Cultural Exchange
The project was a 2012 winner of the Guangzhou International Award for Urban Innovation Application
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