Pediatric Associates of the NW Blogs

Put Down the Smartphone: Smartphone Addiction and Mental Health

Whitney Casares, MD, MPH
August 08, 2013 03:03PM

By Whitney Casares, MD, MPH

Glance around you. Everywhere you look, there is someone on his or her smartphone. At the grocery store, at a stoplight, on the sidewalk; sometimes it feels like everyone around us is addicted to a screen, but is it really true? And, even if it is, is it really that harmful? Recent studies suggest smartphone addiction is real and is harmful, especially for kids.

In a recent investigation performed in Korea, researchers found that teens who meet criteria for smartphone addiction are more likely to have mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, delinquency, attention problems, aggression and withdrawl. The study was recently reported at the American Psychiatric Association annual meting. The research was not perfect; it relied on cross-sectional data and used self-reports from teens for mental health symptoms. However, it brings an important issue to the forefront.

Teen smartphone use is clearly rising, not just in Korea, but also closer to home. In the U.S., smartphone use has penetrated about 50% of the population, according to the International Telecommunication Union, and is up from about 25% in 2011 (reported by the Pew Research Center). About 37% of teens in the U.S. had a smartphone as of 2012, according to the Pew Research Center.

Smartphone overuse and addiction are also real problems. Leslie Perlow, PhD, a professor of leadership at the Harvard Business School, found in her study of 1,600 professionals and managers that:

  • 70% said they check their smartphone within an hour of getting up.
  • 56% check their smartphone within an hour of going to sleep.
  • 48% check over the weekend, including on Friday and Saturday nights.
  • 51% check continously during vacation.
  • 44% said they would experience "a great deal of anxiety" if they lost their phone and couldn't replace it for a week.


She even wrote a book busy professionals on the topic: "Sleeping With Your Smartphone: How to Break the 24/7 Habit and Change the Way You Work."

More studies are needed to further delineate the extent of smartphone addiction in the U.S. and the long-term results for U.S. teens but one thing is clear: it's not good for kids and teens (or adults) to be tied to technology. Encourage your children today to get some fresh air, enjoy the summer sun and get away from the screen.