Sohn, S., Rees, P., Wildridge, B. et al. Prevalence of problematic smartphone usage and associated mental health outcomes amongst children and young people: a systematic review, meta-analysis and GRADE of the evidence. BMC Psychiatry 19, 356 (2019) doi:10.1186/s12888-019-2350-x
Over the past decade, smartphone use has become widespread amongst today’s children and young people (CYP) which parallels increases in poor mental health in this group. Simultaneously, media concern abounds about the existence of ‘smartphone addiction’ or problematic smartphone use. There has been much recent research concerning the prevalence of problematic smartphone use is in children and young people who use smartphones, and how this syndrome relates to mental health outcomes, but this has not been synthesized and critically evaluated.
PSU was reported in approximately one in every four CYP and accompanied by an increased odds of poorer mental health. PSU is an evolving public health concern that requires greater study to determine the boundary between helpful and harmful technology use. Policy guidance is needed to outline harm reduction strategies.
Our review indicates that approximately 1 in 4 CYP are demonstrating problematic smartphone use, a pattern of behaviour that mirrors that of a behavioural addiction. A consistent relationship has been demonstrated between PSU and deleterious mental health symptoms including: depression; anxiety; high levels of perceived stress; and poor sleep. Younger populations are more vulnerable to psychopathological developments, and harmful behaviours and mental health conditions established in childhood can shape the subsequent life course. 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.