Keekli Bureau, 1st December, 2019

One quarter of children and young people across the US, Europe and Asia are demonstrating problematic smartphone use (PSU), which is behavior akin to addiction and potentially linked to rising levels of mental illness among young people, researchers suggested in a comprehensive study that was recently published.

The two UK university researchers who authored the report, which is argued to be the first systematic review of PSU among children and young people, based their findings on data from 41 studies that surveyed a total of nearly 42,000 participants across three continents. They published their research in the open access, peer-reviewed BMC Psychiatry journal.

“Our review indicates that approximately one in four CYP [children and young people] are demonstrating problematic smartphone use, a pattern of behaviour that mirrors that of a behavioural addiction,” the researchers concluded.

Given that smartphone use is seen as socially acceptable, the researchers maintain that PSU is a more pressing public health issue than substance abuse, arguing that PSU was positively associated with other addictive behaviours, such as cigarette smoking, increased alcohol use and compulsive buying.

The report also suggests that increased smartphone usage is connected to rising levels of mental health issues among teenagers, although researchers cautioned that further studies must be conducted to draw accurate trends in the data.

“A consistent relationship has been demonstrated between PSU and deleterious mental health symptoms including: depression; anxiety; high levels of perceived stress; and poor sleep. Further work is urgently needed to develop assessment tools for PSU, and prevent possible long-term widespread harmful impact on this and future generations’ mental health and wellbeing.”

Smartphone use is increasing among teenagers across the globe. A 2017 United Nations Children’s Fund report detailing children’s participation in the digital world cited researchers who claimed that 73 percent of US children aged between 13 and 17 own smartphones, enabling some to be online almost constantly.

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