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Europe's children's growing overdependence on the internet and smartphones

Children across Europe are becoming increasingly dependent on their smartphones, with one in two reporting two or more experiences associated with overdependence, such as feeling pressure to always be available and experiencing unease when unable to check their smartphone.

GirlWithPhoneThese are among the findings detailed in a report published today (Wednesday 21 May) by Net Children Go Mobile, a research project involving the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

Over 3,500 children aged 9-16 and their parents were surveyed for the report across seven European countries, including the UK[1].

Three out of four children (72%) reported feeling more pressure to be always available to family and friends since getting a smartphone. One in two (50%) said they felt a strong need to check their phone to see if anything new has happened ‘very or fairly often’.

As part of the research, children were asked about six experiences associated with excessive use of smartphones[2]. One in two (48 per cent) reported they had experienced two or more of these experiences.

The results show little gender difference in usage, but age plays a factor. Just 20 per cent of the youngest children surveyed (aged 9-10) reported at least two of the six experiences associated with dependence, in comparison with 61 per cent of 15-16 year olds.

boyOnPhoneOne in five of those surveyed also report having experienced at least two behaviours or feelings associated with excessive internet use, such as going without eating or sleeping because of the internet.

There are positives to smartphone use, however. Most children said they felt more connected to their friends (42 per cent ‘very’ and 39 per cent ‘a bit’) and family (57 per cent either very’ or ‘a bit’ connected) thanks to their smartphone.

Two out of three children believe that smartphones help them organise their daily lives, and over half agree that they improve their sense of personal safety and help them do homework.

Leslie Haddon, co-ordinator of Net Children Go Mobile, said: “Although we tend to worry about children more because of the demands made on them at this stage of their life, some of these experiences could be found among many adults. A decade ago quite a few children were saying similar things about mobile phones in general, that they could not be without them, reflecting how embedded these technologies had become in their lives. Smartphones seem to have taken this a stage further, both in terms of their usefulness and attractiveness, but also in terms of children's dependence upon them.”


For the full report contact Leslie Haddon, Net Children Go Mobile, LesHaddon@aol.com or the LSE Press Office, 020 7955 7060, pressoffice@lse.ac.uk  

Notes for editors

[1] Children were surveyed across Denmark, Italy, Romania and the UK (between May and July 2013), Ireland (between November and December 2013) ; and Belgium and Portugal (between February and March 2014).

[2] Children were asked to answer the following six questions which indicate signs of excessive use of smartphones
1. I have felt bothered when I could not check my smartphone
2. I have caught myself doing things on my smartphone that I was not really interested in
3. I have felt a strong need to check my phone to see if anything new has happened
4. I have spent less time than I should with either family, friends or doing schoolwork
5. I find myself using my phone even in places/situations where it is not appropriate
6. I have tried unsuccessfully to spend less time using my phone.

21 May 2014