In the last five years, as the use of mobile phones with Internet access has expanded, dozens of rehabilitation clinics have emerged in the vicinity of mega-companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Apple and Google in Silicon Valley.
They offer specific treatments for young people who spend up to 20 hours a day with their eyes on their cell phone .
This is the case of Paradigm, a mansion surrounded by gardens and security cameras at the highest point of a hill, about 30 km from San Francisco.
The clinic welcomes children and teenagers, between 12 and 18 years old, enrolled by parents to stop addiction online.
Officially, the clinic is located in a neighboring city of San Francisco, called San Rafael.
Without identification sign and only accessible by car, Paradigm hosts only eight young people simultaneously, in increments that last an average of 45 days, and can reach up to 60, depending on the degree of dependency and associated factors such as depression, anxiety and aggressiveness.
The rate is as much as the luxurious lounges and the hot tub overlooking the bay: US $1,633 per night .
Inside the mansion, mobile phones, laptops and tablets are prohibited.
Access to computers, on the other hand, is limited to school reinforcement classrooms, in which access to social networks, instant messaging applications and pornography is blocked. And its use is monitored closely by teachers and psychologists.
With set schedules to get up, study, eat and participate in a battery of collective and individual therapies, the promise of the clinic is to “reprogram” young people, they can rebuild their relationship with technology and re-approximate their families, studies, friends and “offline” tasks.
“We cut them off, that’s the rule,” says Danielle Kovac, director of the clinic.
“I would say it is a period of adjustment for children, it is nice to listen to many of them, saying, at the end of the treatment: ‘Thank you, by not allowing me to continue with my phone or social networks on a computer, I was able to really concentrate on me”.
Symptoms and controversies
Internet addiction is not an officially recognized disease in the United States, at least not yet.
American psychologists and psychiatrists are divided: for some addiction would be more a symptom of other syndromes, such as paranoia and depression, and not the cause of them. For others, it would follow characteristics identical to those of other dependencies already known, such as alcohol and drugs.
Countries like Australia, China, Italy and Japan, however, officially recognize the problem. And in South Korea, Internet dependence was classified as a “public health problem” and is treated in public hospitals.
For Paradigm directors, the Internet can aggravate mood and mental health disorders, and serves as a “safe and anonymous refuge” that takes young people away from their relationships with the real world in a vicious cycle.
“Many times, we see families that they do not even eat with their children because they are on Snap-chat,” says the clinic director, citing young people who spend up to 20 hours a day on social networks.
For Kovac, the diagnosis of internet dependence repeats the pattern of other addictions.
“(It is) when it begins to affect other areas of life, such as your social life or school.” Many times, the grades go down because the children are on Facebook or Instagram all night, and then they can not get up to go to school or focus on school work, “he says.
The director tells that some of the patients arrive at the clinic after leaving school.
Behaviors such as anger, when the internet is interrupted, lying or hiding the use of social networks and the isolation and distance of the family, according to reports, are also warning signs.
“It is very important for parents to be able to determine parameters, perhaps to cut off access to computers, i Pads or telephones before bedtime, or at meals or during school,” says Kovac, who advocates internment as best treatment for the parents’ when other attempts fail.
The rooms in the clinic are spacious and extremely luxurious, reproducing the characteristics found in the homes of most of the young internees.
In one of the rooms, around a fireplace, there are three large beds surrounded by windows from which you can see the sea.
The clinic also offers activities for friends and relatives , “strengthening ties” and continuity of treatment.
In relation to the therapeutic process, it was not possible to talk with any patient for this report. During the visit to the clinic, a young woman had just been admitted, which could be perceived by the cries that were heard in the mansion.
At the same time, a 17-year-old boy played the piano and a small group was gathered in one of the balconies for morning coffee.
“There is a level of discomfort at the beginning, as it would be in any new situation, but we use that as information to help them: ‘Why don’t you tell me why that bothers you?’ We use these responses as therapeutic information, “says Kovac, asked about the signs of abstinence from the internet during treatment.
The director says that internment works like a “reset” button (or reset, reconfiguration) in the minds of patients.
“After logging out, are you going to go back to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or whatever? Well, probably,” Kovac- says, “but our expectation is that they will be disconnected long enough so that, when they return home, they are ready to set limits for themselves, and for their families as well. “
A day in rehabilitation
The director of the clinic says that the reaction of young people to be without their cell phones may surprise and shock them.
“Some parents say their children are going to scream when their phones are removed, but in many cases, it’s a pleasant surprise, they say, ‘Ok,’ many times parents want changes, but children also want them. ” says Kovac.
“In these cases they are ready to say ‘Ok, it’s weird, weird for me, but I’m going to leave my phone to my mother and maybe get it back when i come out.’
During treatment, young people follow a routine that combines well-being and hard work .
The day at the clinic begins at 7:00 am, when everyone wakes up to have their morning coffee together. “That may already be a little different from what these young people are used to at home,” says the director.
“If there is medication (prescribed by the patients’ private doctors), we give them at those times,” continues Kovac. “We started the day in a positive way, having a good and balanced breakfast, and then we do group work, of mutual support, led by our team.”
Young people also take classes to reinforce the school (“schools can send the content they want, so they can continue studying while they are here”), then after eating we are divided into different work groups.
“They can work problem solving skills, collaboration, communication, limits or artistic and musical therapy.” There are also recreational activities, which can be gymnastics, climbing, going to the beach … make the blood circulate and take a bit of sun “says the director.
Dinner is the time for a group discussion about the day, personal goals and expectations for the next morning.
“Then we go to nocturnal activities more related to relaxation, such as yoga, acupuncture, meditation, sometimes we watch documentaries.”
For the director, companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat “know what they are doing so that, not only children, but the whole world, get hooked to certain things, with certain algorithms for certain purposes” .
She asks for more attention from CEOs: “I do not have an answer on how they can do it, but it is necessary to pay attention to what is happening with society in general, people are too connected to their phones and the Internet.”