Horses to the rescue of Korea's Internet-addicted teens

INCHEON, South Korea Wed Jan 9, 2013 7:39am IST

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INCHEON, South Korea (Reuters) - Four months ago, the parents of a teenage South Korean girl were at their wits' end over her addiction to surfing the Internet for pornography.

But now, thanks to a horse riding therapy programme, their daughter appears to be back in control of her life.

In South Korea, the world's most wired country and where almost two-thirds of the population owns a smartphone, addiction to the Internet has become a major problem. Government data says 680,000 children aged between 10 and 19 are Internet addicts, or around 10 percent of the age group.

"I used to play with computers for seven hours a day, even overnight if my mother went on a trip," said the 14-year old girl, who preferred to be identified only by her surname, Kim.

To counter this sort of situation, the government introduced a so-called "Shutdown Law" last year, which blocks gamers under 16 from playing between midnight and 6 a.m. But its effect has been limited as teens circumvent the restrictions by using their parents' accounts.

Kim's parents tried art, music therapy and persistent nagging to try and stem their daughter's addiction.

When none of these worked, her school suggested the Riding Healing Center, a therapy organisation that uses horse-riding to cure emotional and behavioral disorders, which it believes are an underlying cause of internet addiction.

"I care about horses and think about how I could ride them better, which has made me lose interest in computers and the Internet," said the bespectacled teen at the centre, some 40 km (25 miles) from Seoul.

She has had different types of professional counseling at the centre, but Kim believes the horses help most. They certainly have built a bond, shown as she affectionately stroked her horse prior to heading out to ride on a snowy field.

"A horse is an animal that anyone can easily make emotional connection to," said Yoon Ga-eun, a riding instructor at the center.

The Korean Riding Association has two therapy centres and about 50 people a day go through its programmes to treat a range of issues such as depression, attention hyperactivity deficit disorder (ADHD) and internet addiction.

The association plans to build 30 more centres across South Korea, which has a population of 50 million, by 2022 to meet the rising demand for its therapy.

Kim's parents are pleased with the results.

"After the therapy, she barely goes on the Internet. If she does, she makes a promise to me first about how long she will play on the computer," her mother said. (Reporting By Daum Kim and Eunhye Shin, editing by Elaine Lies)

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