HBSC study: Increasing number of children suffer from problematic social media use

Graphics: zdravagenerace.cz
Wednesday 10 May 2023, 8:00 – Text: (red)

The HBSC (Health Behaviour in School-aged Children) study research team at Palacký University Olomouc, in cooperation with the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic, presented the results of the Czech part of an international study conducted in 2022 among primary school pupils. The number of youths whose virtual life shows problematic behaviour has increased from 5% in 2018 to 8% in 2022. Girls are affected more frequently; boys are more likely to play computer games. The research was supported by the Technology Agency of the Czech Republic under the ÉTA Programme.

One in twelve Czech schoolchildren aged 11–15 (8.3%) are in the category of problematic social network users. What determines which children are at risk are the accompanying negative behavioural phenomena, not their screen time.

“These are children who unsuccessfully try to limit their time spent on social networks, neglect their hobbies, lie to those around them about the amount of time they spend on the networks, or experience conflicts with their parents or friends because of it. Problems with social media go hand in hand with other aspects of their lifestyle, so symptoms of depression, consumption of energy drinks, sleep problems, and boredom are more frequent in these children,” said Michal Kalman, head of the HBSC study research team at the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies, UP Faculty of Physical Culture, adding, “It is not possible, however, to clearly determine from the data whether the increased risk of depression and poorer relationships with their peers is a consequence or a cause of the problematic use of social networks.”

In terms of the intensity of social network use, the Czech Republic ranks among countries with a lower number of heavy and problematic users. Countries with the highest proportion of such users include Malta, Spain, and Romania. On the other hand, the lowest number of problematic users can be seen among Dutch youths and children from Israel – as well as in the Czech Republic. Among the fifty countries surveyed, Czech children rank eighth in terms of lowest numbers: a rather flattering result.

While social networking is mostly the domain of girls, computer and online gaming is mainly reported by boys. Forty-eight percent of Czech boys choose to play a computer game every day. Thirteen percent of boys and 5% of girls are at risk of developing a gaming addiction. The prevalence of problematic gaming decreases with age: 15-year-olds are less at risk of gaming problems than 11-year-olds. Boys are much more likely than girls to report that gaming was all they could think about (38% boys vs 20% girls), feeling miserable when they could not play (19% boys vs 10% girls), or having arguments with family members about gaming (22% boys vs 10% girls).

“The HBSC study is a valuable source of information about the lifestyles of the youngest generation, who have been living with digital technology since their birth. It exemplifies our findings from the 2019 ESPAD study among 16-year-olds, which showed that digital technologies are excessively used by up to 25% of adolescents,” commented Jindřich Vobořil, the National Drug Policy Coordinator, on the new HBSC study data, adding, “Digital technologies as such are not a problem. However, it is alarming that in recent years there have been increasing numbers of children and adolescents aged 10–18 who contacted addiction services and sought professional help due to problems with excessive gaming and social media usage.”

More information and data from the current research can be found on the Zdravá generace [Healthy Generation] website, including a publication on how to work with young people to support their digital wellbeing, which can be downloaded here.

The HBSC (Health Behaviour in School-aged Children) epidemiological study is looking at a wide range of aspects of the lifestyles of young people in the Czech Republic and nearly 50 other countries around the world; it is being conducted in collaboration with WHO. The research team from Palacký University Olomouc has been monitoring factors affecting the health of Czech schoolchildren aged 11, 13, and 15 for some time. In the current research, data was collected from nearly 15,000 Czech schoolchildren in 250 schools of different types across the Czech Republic. More about the study at www.hbsc.cz.


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