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Friday, July 1, 2005; Posted: 10:44 a.m. EDT (14:44 GMT)
BEIJING, China (AP) -- The 12 teenagers and young adults, some in ripped jeans and baggy T-shirts, sit in a circle, chewing gum and fidgeting as they shyly introduce themselves.
"I'm 12 years old," one boy announces with a smile. "I love playing computer games. That's it."
"It's been good to sleep" says another, a 17-year-old with spiky hair, now that he's no longer on the computer all day.
The youths are patients at China's first officially licensed clinic for Internet addiction, a downside of the online frenzy that has accompanied the nation's breathtaking economic boom.
"All the children here have left school because they are playing games or in chat rooms everyday," says the clinic's director, Dr. Tao Ran. "They are suffering from depression, nervousness, fear and unwillingness to interact with others, panic and agitation. They also have sleep disorders, the shakes and numbness in their hands."
According to government figures, China has the world's second-largest online population -- 94 million -- after the United States.
While China promotes Internet use for business and education, government officials also say Internet cafes are eroding public morality. Authorities regularly shut down Internet cafes -- many illegally operated -- in crackdowns that also include huge fines for their operators.