TOKYO – The Japanese 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 of last year. According to a survey conducted three months later, daily Internet usage fell by about 30 percent.
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 indicated that middle school students spent 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 percent. 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 of 10 hours a day online, experienced life without smartphones as they stayed at the National Chuo Youth Friendship Center in Gotemba, Japan.
There were plenty of activities, including a hike to Mount Fuji as well as a barbecue party. They also received treatment and counseling from doctors at the National Hospital Organization’s Kurihama Medical and Addiction Center in Kanagawa Prefecture, which has a special outpatient 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 the parents said their child had started studying for an hour each day at home.
But some of the participants regressed to their old habits, 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 center said.