Whether we like it or not, smartphones todaybecame ubiquitous. Despite the many positive things smartphones have given us, people are still concerned about the potential harm of overuse. Especially when it comes to children and adolescents. In 2018, in the UK alone, 95% of young people aged 16 to 24 years old owned a smartphone, compared with 29% in 2008. However, along with the increasing use of smartphones, recent studies have shown that the mental health of young people in this age group has noticeably worsened.
What problems can arise from overuse of a smartphone?
Scientists from King's College Londonthe first ever systematic analysis devoted to the “problematic use of smartphones” in children and young people. Researchers have identified the problematic use of smartphones as addictive behavior - for example, a feeling of panic when the phone is not nearby, or spending too much time using the smartphone, often to the detriment of other things. Based on the results, the researchers concluded that a quarter of children and young people show signs of dependence on smartphones. Despite the fact that previous large-scale studies have not found a connection between the time of using a smartphone and harm to mental health, the opinion that smartphones are addictive is still relevant.
However, scientists often came to contradictoryconclusions. This is partly due to the fact that in many studies, smartphones and computers are united by the general term “screen time”. Because of this, researchers could overlook the fact that the harm often comes from how we interact with technology, and not with which particular gadget. So, watching TV is very different from bullying in social networks. Some studies measured only the total length of time spent in front of the screen, and not how people interact with certain applications and sites. A group of scientists from King's College London decided to analyze the results of studies on the use of smartphones by adolescents and young people. They wanted to find information about cases of behavioral dependence on smartphones, as well as the prevalence of such behavior in this age group. In the course of the work, the researchers analyzed 41 papers published in Asia, Europe and North America since 2011. In total, they examined the responses of 41,871 adolescents and young people aged 11 to 24 years. Experts have determined that the central features of behavioral dependence include:
- Strong desire to use a smartphone;
- Spending more time than imagined;
- A feeling of anxiety and panic if the phone is low;
- Neglecting other more important matters for the sake of a smartphone.
To determine what a young person is experiencingproblems using the smartphone, it should experience at least two of the above symptoms. The results of the analysis showed that from 10% to 30% of adolescents and young people showed two or more signs of dependence. Although the subjects were asked different questions, in most cases the dependence did not depend on the duration of use of the smartphone, but on certain patterns that indicate dependence: for example, a feeling of panic when the phone is not nearby. Moreover, the results of studies on the effects of smartphones on mental health have shown that participants in the addicted group were more likely to report depression, anxiety, and sleep problems.
However, the data obtained cannot be calledcompletely authentic. The fact is that, unlike the results of clinical trials, the responses of the subjects themselves may be inaccurate. Before speaking with confidence about the dependence on smartphones, it is necessary to prove that dependence causes significant harm to health, in contrast to the usual use of the gadget. Despite the fact that further research is needed, the results show that the problematic use of smartphones is widespread and probably associated with a deterioration in the mental health of adolescents and young people.