SAN FRANCISCO – The more that teens reported being addicted to the Internet or their smartphones, the higher they scored on nine subscales of psychopathology and problematic behavior, based on a study of 195 adolescents.
Greater smartphone addiction correlated with an increased likelihood of somatic symptoms, withdrawal, depression or anxiety, thought problems, delinquency, attention problems, aggression, and internalizing or externalizing problems, Dr. Jonghun Lee reported at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.
He and his coinvestigators measured the severity of smartphone or computer Internet addiction using a 2010 smartphone addiction rating scale and the Kimberly Young Internet Addiction Test. They evaluated psychopathology scores using the Korean Youth Self Report, said Dr. Lee, professor of psychiatry at the Catholic University of Daegu (Korea).
Smartphone use in Korea has rocketed from uncommon to ubiquitous in the past 3 years. The number of smartphone users ballooned from approximately 470,000 in 2009 to nearly 33 million in 2012. In December 2010, 8% of Korean youths aged 5-19 years old used smartphones, but by June 2012 67% of that age group had smartphones, he said. The Korean Ministry of Public Administration and Security reported in 2012 that 11% of children and 8% of all ages were addicted to smartphones and 10% of children and 8% of all ages were addicted to the Internet, he added.
"We should try to screen for smartphone addiction as well as Internet/computer addiction in adolescents" to help manage the mental and physical effects of these digital addictions, Dr. Lee said.
He described one Korean news report that observed students on a lunch break at an 1,100-student middle school. Recess traditionally has been a time for kids to run and play between classes, but only five or six students were playing soccer during this lunch break. The rest were gathered in clusters by the bleachers next to the soccer field, looking at smartphones. Korean experts fear that the effects of smartphone use also are negatively affecting academic performance.
Previous studies have suggested that smartphone overuse or addiction to computers or the Internet correlated with an increased risk for depression, he said. Signs of smartphone addiction might include using the smartphone before bedtime or in the bathroom, and abnormal behavior after losing a smartphone, among other symptoms.
The current study is a preliminary one on the subject, and the findings were limited by its cross-sectional design, the use of only a self-report form for measuring psychopathology, and the lack of a standardized smartphone addiction scale at the start of the study, Dr. Lee said.
The many functions of smartphones, also called personal digital assistants, help make them addictive, he said. Almost anywhere, anytime, the user can access the Internet, retrieve information, play online games, take photos or videos, play music or videos, or access a global positioning system for navigation, among other features.
Dr. Lee reported having no relevant financial disclosures.
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