The goal of this initiative is to create Seoul as a healthy and safe area for children and adolescents in terms of internet use.
Internet addiction is an important issue in South Korea given that over 12% of Korean citizens between the ages of 9 and 39 are estimated to have some symptoms of internet addiction. The city government has set up in 2007 the first “I Will Center” – and five such centers have been further established between 2007 and 2012. I Will Centers started on the basis of existing programs for internet addiction counselling and prevention but have gradually developed as specialized programs for children and youths. The aim is to help young people commit to changing their lives, using a wide range of counseling and therapy techniques and also through preventative work in schools and with parents.
The centers have already led to significant international interest, becoming a role model for other regional governments and neighbouring countries. This initiative is significant and meaningful in that a regional government launched an internet addiction prevention program, executing policies itself instead of relying on central government’s supports.
As of 2005, 12.6% of Korean population from age 9 to 39 is reported to have symptoms of internet addiction (source: National Information Society Agency, 2006, National Survey of Internet Addiction Summary Report). Although Korean government began to respond to this problem, the effort was not enough to prevent this spreading phenomenon. Given this situation, Seoul established the first ‘I Will Center’, internet addiction prevention & intervention centre for children and youths, in 2007 which is the first effort in its kind that the regional government actively reacted to the internet addiction issue.
Some unique programs operated by ‘I Will Centers’ are as follow.
1. Counseling & Treatment Programs
- Long-term integrative therapy program: This program administered for about one year. A combination of individual and group counseling, parental counseling, family camps, group activities and nature experiences induce changes in participants, with mentoring and career counseling to help maintain these positive changes.
- On-site counseling: Visiting counseling services provided at homes or schools of reclusive high-risk youth
- Use of expressive art therapy methods for age-appropriate service
- Crisis management system: Psychiatric specialists, social welfare professionals and psychotherapy counselors provide follow-up management and crisis intervention on a 1:1 mentoring basis.
2. Preventive programs
- Internet addiction preventive education for each age groups in various formats
- Prevention puppet shows and animation for kindergarteners
- Joint preventive education with parents
- Parenting class for fathers
- Monitoring and reporting of harmful websites by youth volunteers
- Healthy cyber culture campaigns
- Contest for internet addiction preventive contents
- Empowering youths in good decision making :Youth forum
3. Research on Program and Content Development
- "Kind Parents" (Parenting Guide Booklet)
- Preventive Education Animation for Elementary Students
- Preventive Education using Board Game, “TED CAT”
- Preventive Education Program for Preschoolers and Kindergarteners
- Group Counseling Program for Internet Addiction Prevention (For Parents/ For Youths)
- Motivational Group Counseling Program for Internet Addiction Prevention for High School Students
▶ Comments from ‘I Will Centre’ program participants:
“When I first began the ‘Dream Tree Program’ I could not live without computers. Directly after school, I sat in front of computer to play games, and remained glued to the computer for at least five hours a day. Now, I use computer much less, and I spend my free time playing with my friends.” (Long-term therapy program participant, 7th grade, male)
“I had been drained by my worries about my child, but today’s session told me that I need to take the initiative and begin acting. I thought I was a good communicator with my child, but I realized after today’s class that I was very unfair and one-sided. (Parent participant in parenting education)
“I will not be a slave of internet. I will control it.” (Teen participant in preventive education)
The method applied include following dimensions:
Ecological perspective: The program considers the effect of family, schools, peer culture, as well as macro-environmental factors such as national policies, media culture alongside considerations for the afflicted youth themselves.
School screening of internet addiction by Ministry of Gender Equality and Family: Taking responsibility for follow-up counselling of students identified as ‘risk groups’, I Will Centres were able to access more systematically to the internet addicted youths in Seoul.
Collaborating with school district offices: This is crucial in implementing counselling sessions to the non-voluntary student clients. This is also vital in providing preventive education during school class hours.
Leading partner I: Ministry of Public Administration and Security
This ministry does the leading role in the internet addiction response of Korea since 2002. Internet addiction policy of Seoul is in line with the long-term plan coordinated by this ministry, while the I Will Centres are operating the children and youth specialized program fit to the needs of Seoul citizen.
Leading partner II: Ministry of Gender Equality and Family
This ministry does the key role in advancing the internet addiction response for youths. I Will Centres actively cooperate with the internet addiction school screening project of this ministry and expand its capacity of counselling service.
Other Collaborating partners
School districts, local schools, youth facilities, school counsellors, youth workers, media, professionals and scholars, partner hospitals.
The resources used for implementing the initiative include:
- Budget support from the Seoul Metropolitan Government, 2.4 million USD in 2012
- Statistics from national internet addiction survey (Ministry of Public Admin. & Security) and internet addiction school screening (Ministry of Gender Equality and Family) used for planning and evaluation
- Administration of school districts connecting I Will Centers to local schools for effective delivery of the services
- Programs developed by the Korea Information Society Agency and the Korea Youth Counselling and Welfare Institute
- Existing network & facilities of youth centers where three I Will Centers are located
- Existing research assets of Universities that two I Will Centers are operated by
- Psychiatric knowledge and advisory of partner hospitals
Internet and smart-media addiction rates are measured using the Korean Internet Addiction Scale (K Scale). Ministry of Public Admin. & Security and Ministry of Gender Equality and Family do the yearly internet addiction survey using the K Scale.
Changes in attitude or behaviour following preventive education or counselling are measured with pre- and post- tests and satisfaction survey. These are done by the group leaders or counsellors right after applying programs.
The outcomes achieved are as follows:
- Decrease of the internet addiction rate among youths in Seoul (10.0% in 2009 vs. 5.4% in 2011).
- Five I Will Centres established in Seoul by Sep. 2012.
- Networking with associated ministries, organizations and youth facilities.
- Enormous growth in counselling and preventive education.
The excessive speed by which internet and ‘smart-media’ addiction is increasing is the greatest obstacle to this initiative. The prompt updates of surveys and researches are needed to better program plans. Also, to satisfy the expanding need for counselling and preventive services, the Seoul Metropolitan Government is planning to establish additional centres.
Another obstacle is the lack of supporting research and knowledge in regard to the internet addiction problem. Therefore, an experimenting approach, wherein various methods are tried out, is put in place. I Will Centers continue to seek methods to improve the programs through research collaboration with other professional parties.
The advantages of regional government’s independent operation of internet addiction response are:
- tailored program and flexible budget fit to the needs of the citizen
- prompt response to the rapid change of media environment.
- providing a role model of a regional government’s central role to cooperate with other institutions including central government for the more efficient service.
In their early stages, I Will Centers received assistance from the internet addiction programs of the Korea Information Society Agency and the Korea Youth Counselling and Welfare Institute. I Will Centers could access to public research reports of these agencies and received help from their advisors. Currently, the relationship of the I Will Centers with the above two agencies has become reciprocal.
I Will Centers received high international interests. NHK (Japan), CANAL PLUS (France), Radio France, Iran’s national broadcasting system, the Associated Press of the United States, and the LA Times interviewed us for advice for the internet addiction problems. Japanese Ministry of Education, the Embassy, Osaka University, and Nihon University have visited I Will Centers since 2009. And the centers are invited to related academic conventions held in Japan.
I Will Centers hold annual ‘Program and Case Conference’ to share the program models to scholars and practitioners who work on internet addiction.
- Healthy Seoul Free from Internet Addiction of Children and Adolescents, http://www.guangzhouaward.org/642/content_734.html (accessed 19 April 2016)
- Healthy Seoul Free from Internet Addiction of Children and Adolescents, Urban Innovation Database, http://www.urban-innovations.org/index.php/Healthy_Seoul_Free_from_Internet_Addiction_of_Children_and_Adolescents (accessed 19 April 2016)
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