Ital J Pediatr. 2021 Jul 2;47(1):150. doi: 10.1186/s13052-021-01102-8.
BACKGROUND: The lives of many children and adolescents are today increasingly influenced by new technological devices, including smartphones. The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic occurred in a time of outstanding scientific progress and global digitalization. Young people had relevant adverse psychological and behavioral effects due to the COVID-19 pandemic, mainly related to infection control measures, which led them to spend more time at home and with major use of technological tools. The goal this study proposes is to evaluate health and social outcomes of smartphone overuse among Italian children and adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic, analyzing patterns and aims of utilization, as well as the eventual presence and degree of addiction.
METHODS: This study was based on a self-report and anonymous questionnaire, which was administered to 184 Italian school-age (6-18 years) children and adolescents during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The test was electronically (email, whatsapp) explained and sent by pediatricians either directly to older children (middle and high school), or indirectly, through the help of teachers, to younger ones (primary school). All participants spontaneously and voluntarily joined the present study. The survey was made by 4 sections, and designed to know and outline modalities (frequency, patterns and aims) of smartphone use, adverse outcomes, and related parental behaviors, also in order to reveal the eventual occurrence and degree of addiction. The same information, related to the pre-epidemic period, was also investigated and analyzed.
RESULTS: The data obtained revealed a significantly greater adhesion to the questionnaire by females, likely reflecting higher attention and interest than boys to initiatives relating to health education. Our study showed more frequent smartphone use among Italian children and adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to the pre-epidemic period. This may be related to the social distancing measures adopted during the months under investigation. The present survey also outlined the changing patterns and aims in the use of smartphones among young people, which allowed to limit some effects of the crisis. Indeed, they were used for human connection, learning and entertainment, providing psychological and social support. Finally, it was observed a significant increase of overuse and addiction. This led to many clinical (sleep, ocular and musculoskeletal disorders), psychological (distraction, mood modification, loss of interest) and social (superficial approach to learning, isolation) unfavorable outcomes.
CONCLUSIONS: Pediatricians and health care professionals should be aware of the potential risks related to inappropriate use of smartphones. They should monitor, in cooperation with parents, possible associated adverse effects, in order to early recognize signs and symptoms suggestive, or at high risk, for addiction. They must carry out, as well, the necessary interventions to prevent and/or lower the detrimental impact of smartphone overuse on children and adolescents’ health, oriented to sustain adequate physical and psychological development as well as social relationships.