One in Four Children and Young People Show Signs of Addiction to Mobiles

One in Four Children and Young People Show Signs of Addiction to Mobiles

Kids with mobile devices using mobile phone

No matter what you think of mobiles, they are certainly here to stay. They have become

such a main part of our life it would be hard to imagine a time when we didn't have one close. And, while there are so many advantages to owning a mobile, there are several people that remain concerned about the potential negative harms of heavy and continuous use. This is especially true of young children and early teens.

Did you know that in 2018 a mind blowing 95% of 16-24 year olds owned a mobile and that up from 29% ten years earlier (2008)? Even though these statistics are interesting, there’s also an increasing and worrying trend where mental health has started to become much worse in this age group.

A review was conducted investigating what they called “problematic mobile usage” in children and young people. Their results were quite interesting. They found that excessive mobile use resembled addiction.

A lot of the respondents reported that they felt quite panicky when their phone is available or felt that they spent too much time on their phone, often to the detriment of others.

From their study, they found that a quarter of children and young people showed signs of problematic mobile phone usage. 

The difficult thing with statistics is the fact that you can have one study suggesting one thing or another, this particular study found there’s no link between the amount young people use their mobile and mental health. However, the overall perception from the members of the public is that there is a problem.

I suppose it’s hard to really categorise the problem down to one specific digital item as mobile phones are just one category of digital device. As you know, there are multiple devices and one of them could cause issues for teens?

The amount of time teens are spending on screens is increasing, but, what a lot of studies haven't factored in is exactly what they’re doing on them. 

The work they need to do has increased dramatically over the past few years and what we had to do on the devices when we were younger is a lot different to what teens need to do today.

Also, the sheer amount of apps available today for such things like health, fitness, diet, games is extraordinary.

Place of phones in society

It seems as though there’s quite a large chasm between what the older generation find acceptable and what the younger generation do. Although, the vast majority seem to be in union when asked what they feel about mobile phone use in general.

Apparently three quarters of people (76%) found it really annoying when someone is either watching a film, playing a game or listening to music, and 81% object to people using their phones during meal times (especially around the dinner table).

The funny thing is, around (53%) of people said that they were usually on their phones while watching TV with others which is really surprising. (62%) of people over the age of 55 thought this was unacceptable, but surprisingly drops to just two in 10 (21%) among those aged 18-34. 

Connected commuters

We’re sure you can probably relate to this one, but many commuters now find their mobiles  essential so that they can get online while they commute. Most use it for personal reasons (42%) and professionals (35%). Whereas most young people will likely multi-task on their commute. In fact, 9% of 18-34 year olds carry out 11 or more tasks compared to a measly 1% of over 35s.

Ofcom’s Communications Market Report

Features of addiction

To get a real grasp of what has been going on, it’s impossible to draw a conclusion from just one study. Therefore, the idea is to look at multiple studies of mobile use and report instances of behavioural addiction. 

So, with an analysis of 41 different studies published in Europe, North America and Asia since 2011, they looked at 41,871 children from 11 to 24. However, most of them were in their early 20s. Since there were so many studies, it’s much easier to class them under an umbrella term “problematic mobile usage” to describe instances where these features occurred.

After reviewing the many different studies a trend started to emerge:

* Most reported as always having an extreme urge to use their phones.

* The vast majority of them were spending far too much time on them and more than they intended to.

* Feeling a rush of fear and panic if they ran out of battery.

* neglected other tasks in the day so they could use it.

* Even when they realised just how much they used their phone, they continued to use it.

With this in mind, in order to define these youngsters as having problematic smartphone usage they had to show at least two of these features:

Around 10% to 30% of both children and teens exhibited problematic mobile use. Although it should be noted that a lot of these studies used self-report questionnaires measuring the addiction by the length of time they spent using their mobiles. The patterns all the studies found were withdrawal symptoms when the phone was taken away.

They also looked at the effect mobiles had on mental health and found that most in the “addicted range” were more than likely to show symptoms of problems with sleep, anxiety and depression. However, the vast majority of studies had measured mental health and addiction at the same time, which made it almost impossible to conclude whether mobile addiction causes mental health issues or vice versa.

It must be said that until you can fully monitor the overall pattern of phone usage it’s extremely hard to say whether it’s an addiction or not when compared to “normal” mobile use.

You could probably say that we need a lot more data in order to make an informed decision about this. Even though there are so many studies on the topic, the data seems to be inconclusive.

Perhaps future research could shine a light on this problem and with any luck it will become much clearer.

Samantha Sohn, a fourth-year medical student at The GKT School of Medical Education at King’s College London was the lead author of this study.


Even though the studies conducted weren’t exactly conclusive, no matter what statistic you want to focus on, the trend is extremely worrying and seems to be getting worse. One in 4 young people showing an addiction to mobiles is far too much and there’s no evidence that the next generation coming up behind them will be any different.

The fact that these young children have access to whole wealth of knowledge and information could be argued outweighs what negative effects have on them and only time will tell.

Is this simply just a generational thing or a worrying trend that looks set to get much worse in the future.

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