(l) Teen Smartphone ‘Addicts’ Also Have Other Ills (2013)

Teen Smartphone ‘Addicts’ Also Have Other Ills

Action Points

  • Note that this study was published as an abstract and presented at a conference. These data and conclusions should be considered to be preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
  • In this study of adolescents, there was a significant relationship between addiction to smartphones or the Internet/computer and psychopathology.

SAN FRANCISCO — Teenagers who spent enough time on their smartphones to be called “addicted” also tended to show signs of other psychological problems, according to a small study reported here.

Scores for numerous psychopathologies were significantly higher among youths rated “high” on a smartphone addiction scale compared with those rated “low,” including withdrawal, depression, anxiety, aggression, and delinquency, said Jonghun Lee, MD, PhD, of Catholic University of Daegu in South Korea.

The same associations were also seen between psychopathology scores and ratings of Internet and computer addiction, Lee told attendees at the American Psychiatric Association annual meeting.

He suggested that, when screening adolescents for problems associated with tech devices, clinicians should include the use of smartphones as well as computers and video games.

Jeffrey Borenstein, MD, who moderated a press briefing at which Lee spoke, said it’s also important for parents to monitor their children’s use of tech devices and to clamp down when it begins to dominate their lives.

“Parents need to be parents,” said Borenstein, head of the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation in Great Neck, N.Y.

Lee explained that smartphone use has exploded in Korea, with an estimated 33 million such devices in use last year. Other studies have shown that younger people are the largest market.

The current study involved 195 teens (specific ages unreported) in Daegu who were assessed with three instruments: the 2010 Smartphone Addiction Rating Scale, the Young Internet Addiction Scale, and the Korean Youth Self Report (K-YSR). The latter gives scores for a host of specific psychopathologies.

Participants were stratified into four groups on the basis of the smartphone and Internet addiction ratings — those scoring low on both, those scoring high on both, and those scoring high on one and low on the other.

Lee and colleagues found that the lowest mean psychopathology scores in every category were in the participants scoring low on both addiction scales.

For the following pathologies, the differences between this group and at least one of the other groups were significant (P<0.01 except where indicated):

  • Somatic symptoms
  • Withdrawal (P=0.04)
  • Depression/anxiety
  • Thought problems
  • Attention problems
  • Delinquency
  • Aggression
  • Internalizing problems
  • Externalizing problems

Scores among the groups rated high on one or both addiction scales were generally similar. Exceptions included delinquency, aggression, and externalizing problems, where mean pathology scores were noticeably higher among participants with high addiction levels on both scales compared with the two “high-low” addiction groups as well as the “low-low” group.

For all three of these pathologies, scores in the “high-high” group were in the 57-58 range, compared with 52-55 in the “low-high” groups and 48-52 in the “low-low” group. But there were no psychopathologies to which smartphone addicts were more prone than other Internet computer addicts.

Scatter plots of smartphone and Internet-computer addiction scores against composite K-YSR scores showed significant correlations, indicating that the severity of addiction was related to the severity of other mental problems in the sample, Lee said.

Because smartphones are on the way to becoming ubiquitous in even moderately affluent societies such as South Korea, the prevalence of addiction to them is likely to increase as well, Lee said.

Borenstein said that there could be cultural or other differences between Korea and the U.S. that should be examined before generalizing the study to U.S. teens. Nevertheless, he suggested the applicability was plausible enough to warrant concern about heavy use of smartphones in adolescents and possible contributions to psychological problems.

The study had no commercial funding.

Lee and Borenstein said they had no relevant financial interests.

Primary source: American Psychiatric Association
Source reference:
Lee J, et al “The effects of smartphone and internet/computer addiction on adolescent psychopathology” APA 2013; Abstract NR6-41.