In South Korea, arguably the world’s most connected country, doctors are prescribing horse-riding to treat teenagers who have become addicted to the internet. The government has introduced a “Shutdown Law” to prevent under-16s playing internet games between midnight and six am – but of course, web-savvy teens simply use other accounts.
Four months ago, the parents of a girl called Kim (14) were at their wits’ end over her internet addiction. She said: “I used to play with computers for seven hours a day, I couldn’t stop. I even used to play all night, when my mother went away overnight.” But now she is getting her life back under control thanks to riding lessons.
In South Korea, where almost two-thirds of the population own a smartphone, the government estimates that about 10% of young people between 10 and 19 are internet addicts. That’s around 680,000 youngsters.
Yoosook Joung, Doctor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, said: “It is an enormously fun activity, but it is not just a simple physical sport because it involves another living thing, the horse. Riding is a new experience for them, because it combines physical activity with an emotional connection to an animal, which is why it helps to overcome internet addiction.”
The Korean Riding Association has two therapy centres and about 50 people attend therapy programmes there every day. The association now plans to build 30 more centres by 2022 to meet rising demand all over the country.