Youth Internet Addiction Prevention Project
Children & Youth Division, Seoul Metropolitan Government

The Problem

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-high-speed Internet services.
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. Internet addiction has emerged as one of the most serious social problems in Korea since 2000.

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%. In terms of age group, 16~19 year olds were the most at risk at 18.3%.
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.

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 measurements of internet addiction symptoms, prevention and counseling programs, as well as carrying out numerous surveys. Yet the internet has become a huge culture for young Koreans. Just one or two new institutions or policies are not able to contain the situation. Treatment involvement was limited to the risk group. 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.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
Korea was witnessing the youth internet addiction become a critical social issue, while systematic preventive measures were not being institutionalized. Seoul 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 counselors 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.

Quantitative Achievement
“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 services 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 preventive 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, “Gwang-jin I will Center” recorded a 77% program satisfaction rate in 2010. It rose to 88% in 2011. The average class size of the each preventive class dropped from 30 persons to 27 persons.
“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 region my school is situated in, many of our children are from underprivileged families or broken homes. The Dream Tree program has given such children 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 and playing internet games on the computer”.

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
The Media, Scholars and Citizens asked the Government to Take Action
As internet addiction emerged as an important issue in Korea, scholars began to research addiction factors, and the media expressed their indignation towards horrible accidents that occurred due to internet addiction. Parents began asking for intervention from the central government.
The Korean government set up the KIAC (Korea Internet Addiction Center) in the National Information Society Agency in 2002 to address the issue. Government also began offering counseling services through KYCI (Korea Youth Counseling Institute). The national efforts demonstrated the government’s interest in the issue, but they were not able to make significant changes on a national level.

“Gwangjin I Will Center”: the First Youth Internet Addiction Prevention Counseling Center
In 2007, The Seoul Metropolitan Government(SMG) initiated an Internet Addiction Prevention & Intervention Center as a pilot project in the Gwangjin Youth Center called the “Gwangjin I Will Center”. It was the first attempt to deal with internet addiction on a local government level. The center has since been a role model for similar initiatives by other provincial and municipal governments.
The “Gwangjin I Will Center” adopted the measures of the KIAC and KYCI. It also developed its own prevention and recovery programs that took into account the developmental characteristics of youth and the cultural nature of the internet and online games. The “Gwangjin I Will Center” pioneered a variety of programs, making significant successes.

Expansion of “I Will Centers” through “Dream Tree Project of SMG”
Due to the “Gwangjin I Will Center’s” success, the SMG decided to expand the internet addiction prevention programs and established additional “I Will Centers”. “The Basic Plan for Dream Tree Project of SMG”, a comprehensive plan for children and youth in the city, was established in May 2008. The plan included an expansion of internet addiction prevention centers. In 2009, the “Boramae I Will Center” was established. In November 2009, a survey was conducted among 1,500 school parents there was a positive response of 75.4% to the I WILL Centers’ programs. In 2010, the “Myungji I Will Center” and the “Changdong I Will Center” opened, and, the fifth center, the “Gangbuk I Will Center,” followed in 2012. At present, these five centers cover the entire city of Seoul in five major blocs.

The Advantage of Delegating the Operation of the “I Will Centers” to Expert Institutions
The SMG decided to delegate the operation of the “I Will Centers” to expert groups to effectively deal with the rapidly growing issue. Through public bids, the SMG chose three privately run municipal facilities and two private universities. The youth training centers were well equipped with the necessary infrastructure and youth activities experience, while the universities focused on the practice of their youth studies, counseling and social welfare knowledge. Through its bold decision to delegate the operation of the facilities to those expert institutions, the SMG has laid the solid groundwork for appropriate measures to be taken against internet addiction among the young population.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
“The Basic Plan for Dream Tree Project of SMG”, made public in 2008, specified the purpose of the initiative as “solving the internet addiction of children and youth in Seoul and turning Seoul into a city where children and youth lead healthy lifestyles.” The directions of the initiative can be seen in the following four strategies, focusing on the effective delivery of the services to the beneficiaries through collaboration with relevant institutions, schools and homes.

Strategy One: Regional Distribution of the Centers for Easy Access to the Service
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 distribution of the five I WILL Centers was necessary for the youths can access any of the centers in their neighborhood.

Strategy Two: Efficient Service Delivery through Collaboration
The second strategy was the collaboration with the office of education and the central government to improve the service delivery to young Seoulites. We kept in close contact with the Ministry of Public Administration and Security and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, which are the windows of the central government’s actions on internet addiction. Making best use of the directions and strategies of the ministries, the city government has been able to provide increasingly better services. We have 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.

Strategy Three: 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 Centers, Youth Culture Centers around the city, and a whole host of Afterschool Centers.

Strategy Four: 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 feel too listless 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.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
Strategy One: Establishment of Five Centers and Standardization of Programs across 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 to offer the best services possible.

Strategy Two: School-centered Services through Collaboration with Focal 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 internet 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 of the Office of education and its 11 district offices and schools, all those prevention education initiatives, including personal and group counseling, would not have been possible.

Strategy Three: Connection to Youth Facilities through On-line Network in 2011
The fact that three out of five “I Will Centers” are located in Youth Training Centers in major districts implies that the city government places a great emphasis on the connection with various youth facilities for a successful implementation of preventive work. 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 facilities in the city through the “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.

Strategy Four: Gradual Increase of the Visiting Services at School or Home
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 centers’ proportion of services provided outside the centers has risen. The centers have increased the number of visiting counselors, who visit young people in need, from 8 in 2011 to 15 in 2012, and plan to increase to 20 in 2013. The number of visiting service beneficiaries continues to grow as well. In addition, the services in the schools, including prevention education and individual and group counseling, are becoming one of the core undertakings of the centers.

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
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 is 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 collaboration, the officials of the city did a key role for coordination. With the agencies of the central government and with educational offices, the officials of the city tried to make an agreement on the principles of cooperation and the division of roles between the parties. Next, the staffs from the “I Will Centers” discussed details of the collaboration with the other party. Such a “two-step” 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 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, children from less stable families like multicultural families, and disabled children.

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
Budget Priority on the Initiative
The SMG is allocating quite a substantial amount of its budget to the youth internet addiction prevention. This budget is one of just a few welfare programs that have increased despite an economic recession. In 2012, the city allocated $2.5 million. This signifies not just the urgency of the issue, but also the efficacy of the centers in producing tangible results.

Increased Access through Free Programs
In addition to the city’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 low income families. These people have been able to take advantage of free counseling, mentoring, therapeutic playing activities, camps, and medical bills incurred from co-morbid symptom treatment. Addiction prevention education provided to most of the primary and secondary schools in Seoul is also free. Regular counseling fee is just a small amount, US$5 ~ 30 per session.

High Quality Staffs
Each “I Will Center” is staffed with 10 full-time employees and more than 50 professional counselors and prevention instructors by contracts. All the professionals hold master’s degrees or higher and have completed special training related to internet addiction. Such high standards required of the experts guarantee top quality services provided by the centers.

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 youth classified as being in danger of addiction, through the ministry’s annual screening. The city also collaborates with the ministry for its “Internet Rescue Camps”.
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 counseling and preventive.
3. Contracted Hospitals: The city can receive diagnoses of and treatments for additional symptoms including depression and ADHD from the contracted hospitals as well as consultation in mental health issue.
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 preventive education.
5. Regional Youth Facilities: The city collaborates with regional youth 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 Counseling Professionals: The city works with the professional associations for counseling case supervision and research. Professionals of the association participate in the development, evaluation and improvement of programs targeting internet addiction counseling and prevention.
7. Mass Media cooperation: The city can maximize the publicity effects of major campaigns against internet addiction by jointly holding the events with the mass media.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
The Seoul initiative to fight internet addiction among the youth is highly likely to be sustainable.

Criticality of Internet Addiction
The first reason that the initiative’s sustainable is one of its most critical problems. Children and adolescents’ obsession with the media and the accompanying problems are severe in Korea, as they are in many other places. It will not disappear on its own. Even more so, the age of addiction keeps decreasing, affecting younger children.

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. 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” are some of the first in the world to offer internet addiction prevention and counseling programs for the youth. The centers have tried a variety of programs for the past five years, making amends and improvement. Those experiences can be a valuable asset to other cities and countries that would like to begin to address their own internet addiction problems.

Attention by Potential Experts in Counseling and Youth Problems
Korea is still suffering from a shortage of personnel trained in the issue of internet addiction. Through case conferences or counseling program conferences, the centers have attempted to share their valuable information with more than 200 personnel and organizations every year.

Attention by Local Governments at Home and Abroad
The “I Will Center” project is a success story in that the municipal government has taken an 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. In November 2012, the efforts of Seoul were acknowledged by “The Guangzhou International Award for Urban Innovation,” China.

International Attention
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 Japanese Ministry of Education; 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 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.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
The biggest lesson that the city of Seoul has learned through its experiences promoting this critical task is the extremely positive results that came out of the collaboration with various agencies and institutions. “I Will Centers” have been able to establish a high-efficient, high-quality service delivery system through the strategic alliance with agencies, schools and expert groups.

First, in terms of the collaboration between the central government and the municipal government, Korea is dealing with internet addiction at the level of its central government. Yet in terms of quantity and quality, the efforts fall short of fulfilling the regional demand. On the other hand, local governments have limitations when implementing a massive systematic approach like the central government. So, based on the results of the school screening surveys carried out by the central government, the Seoul city has focused on providing the services directly by seeking-out high risk adolescents. The central government welcomes the situation, because they can see the follow-up measures of their surveys utilized by municipal governments. With focusing on what they can do best, the collaboration is producing the best synergy possible.

The second aspect of the collaboration is the cooperation with the country’s educational system. To be able to offer the services at school, the cooperation of the educational supervisory boards is mandatory. Seoul “I Will Centers” consolidated their cooperative relations with the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education and established a system of providing addiction prevention education during school hours. On the part of the supervisory institution and schools, they can totally rely on the centers for the education of healthy internet use. The accessibility of the center experts to high-risk students at school significantly improved the chances of delivering much needed counseling services to those in dangerous stages: Such students are reluctant to come to the centers.

The third form of collaboration is with the cooperation of expert institutions, which include psychologists and psychiatrists, youth activists and addiction counselors. The “I Will Centers” have signed agreements with 15 local hospitals, which offer mental health training to the professional counselors at the centers while being assisted by the counselors in both psychological counseling and treatment. The children’s internet addiction needs to be replaced by other harmless fun and lively activities. In this regard, the centers need the assistance of professional youth activists. They often collaborate with youth centers to receive such services. In the meantime, the counselors at the centers present their programs and case studies at various conferences, making contributions to the academic field of counseling studies. The professional counselors in town have opportunities to take part in the case supervision, development and evaluation of counseling programs; therefore they have a mutually beneficial relationship with the centers.

The creative collaborative relations between the “I Will Centers” and their related agencies, institutions and personnel are making significant contributions to the city’s internet prevention efforts, because they have pulled closer the target date for the realization of a “Seoul, where youth are happy through healthy Internet use.”

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Children & Youth Division, Seoul Metropolitan Government
Institution Type:   Government Department  
Contact Person:   Kyewon Lee
Title:   Project Manager  
Telephone/ Fax:  
Institution's / Project's Website:  
Postal Code:  
City:   Seoul

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