Love them or hate them, smartphones have become ubiquitous in everyday life. And while they have many positive uses, people remain concerned about the potential negative harms of excessively using them – especially in children and teens. In 2018, a whopping 95% of 16-24 year olds owned a smartphone, up from only 29% in 2008. However, alongside this increase in smartphone use, studies have also shown mental health has become worse in this age group.
We conducted the first ever systematic review investigating what we called “problematic smartphone usage” in children and young people. We defined problematic smartphone usage as behaviours linked to smartphone use that resemble features of addiction – such as feeling panicky when the phone isn’t available, or spending too much time using the smartphone, often to the detriment of others. Based on our findings, we estimate that a quarter children and young people show signs of problematic smartphone usage.
While numerous large-scale studies have found there’s no link between the amount you use your smartphone and harm to your mental health, the popular perception that smartphones are addictive still persists. Previous studies investigating their harm often had contradictory conclusions.