Digital dependence claims one in four at addiction centre

Photo: Barbora Kmentová

Czech teachers and psychologists are ringing alarm bells over the growing number of children addicted to the Internet and smartphones. Out of some 120 kids admitted to the Addiction Clinic for children and youth at the General Teaching Hospital in the first year of its existence, every fourth showed symptoms of digital addiction.

Photo: Barbora Kmentová
Children going to the toilet in the middle of a lesson to finish a game on their smartphone or falling asleep in the classroom due to a night spent on Facebook - that has become a common problem for many Czech teachers in recent years. Michal Miovský, the head of the Prague Addiction Clinic estimates that about one to five percent of kids aged six to fifteen have an addiction that can negatively impact both their health and social relations.

“The average age of addicted children is approximately 13, 14 or 15 years. On the other hand we have some experiences also with younger kids on the level of counselling. It is quite clear that some parents have a problem with assessing the situation and admitting their own failings. Because if we speak about kids around the age of six or seven, it is a problem of rules and limits that have to be set by the parents.”

Although there is not enough reliable data to enable a comparison of European states, Mr Miovský says there is evidence indicating that the Czech Republic and other post-Communist countries may be facing more serious problems than the rest of Europe:

“One problem which is specific for the Czech Republic and other former Eastern Bloc countries is a relatively poor system of school prevention regarding self-regulation and social skills. There are definitely not enough counselling targeted at internet use and the use of other digital technologies.”

Michal Miovský, photo: Šárka Ševčíková
According to Mr Miovský, the total number of hours a child spends online per week may be a significant lead for parents on whether they have a problem. He points out, however, that especially with younger kids it is up to the parents’ to set clear limits.

“We can speak about a developing problem if the total of hours spent online is higher than 35 to 40 a week. That’s the first sign of trouble. But we can find other areas where the impacts are quite serious, especially in connection with health and social skills, for instance separation from other kids and preferring communication through the Internet in place of face-to-face communication with peers.”

The very first international conference addressing the issue of children’s digital addictions took place in Lisbon just last week and according to Mr Miovský, debate has also intensified in the Czech Republic about what can be done to tackle the problem.