Skip to content ↓

The dangers of smartphone use in children - the evidence

Mental and Emotional Health

The first generation of children who were given smartphones in primary school are now adults. We now know for every year younger they were given smartphones by their parents, the worse their mental health is today.

responsible for the huge increase in cyberbullying

Children no longer have respite from bullies at home

84% of bullying to children with smartphones happens online

When seeking to overcome negative feelings of low self-worth about their bodies, young people are four times (76%) more likely to turn to social media apps such as Tik Tok or Instagram than to talk to friends and family (18%). There is an irony in this, as most (69%) young people also say that social media has a negative effect on their mood, making them feel stressed, anxious, and depressed. Many of them (62%) are worried that their mental health is being damaged by the online content that is pushed at them through social media algorithms, and by the amount of time they are spending on social media.

increasing depression and anxiety in children

A 2023 study of 27,969 18-24 year olds found that mental health outcomes were significantly better the older the young person was when they got a smartphone.

Depression, feelings of aggression, suicidal thoughts, low self-confidence, poor self-image, detachment and weak relationships increase for every year younger a child is given a smartphone even in those with no traumatic or adverse childhood experience

…increasing loneliness in children

16-24 year olds are currently reported as being the loneliest group in society. There is a correlation between the more friends young people had on Facebook and the more lonely they felt.

Loneliness has doubled in children since 2012

School loneliness is highest where access to smartphones and internet use is high

making children more likely to self-harm

194% increase in emergency department visits for self-harm by 10-14 year olds girls (94% for boys)

Up to 30% of teenage girls report purposefully hurting themselves without wanting to die in the last year






Sexual content and behaviour 
…exposing children to sexual & offensive content

90% of girls and 50% of boys say they and their peers are sent explicit pictures or videos of things they do not want to see

36% of children aged 8-17 said they had seen something worrying or nastyonline in the past 12 months

51% of 11 to 13 year olds say they have seen pornography online

 …pressuring girls into sending sexual images of themselves

80% of teenage girls are being put under pressure to provide sexual images of themselves

Girls are commonly contacted by multiple boys a night asking for ‘nudes’ (naked/ semi-naked images)


Focus and brain changes
…addictive 46% of teens say they use their phones “almost constantly”
…reducing children’s academic performance

Children who spend 5-7 hrs/day on a digital device are 49 points (equivalent of two school years) behind children who are on a screen <1hr/day

… contributing to global stagnation of academic achievement

The Programme for International Student Assessment (or Pisa), has documented a decade-long downward trend in educational attainment since 2012.

“No single country showed an increasingly positive trend in any subject.” The one factor in common, across 690,000 students in 81 countries, was that one in three children becomes distracted by a digital device every time they try to learn maths.

A child who spends up to one hour a day using digital devices “for leisure” (ie, not for learning) was found to be 49 points – equivalent to more than two years of education – ahead of a child who spends five to seven hours a day on screens, even after accounting for socio-economic factors. That is a gap no private school or tutor can bridge”

…creating structural changes to children’s brains

MRI scans of young children shows screen time reduces the size of the brain areas responsible for visual processing, empathy, attention, complex memory and early reading skills






Physical Health
…damaging children’s eyes Children’s myopia risk (shortsightedness) is linked to smartphone use
contributing to obesity in children 9 hrs/day average screen time in kids with a smartphone

43% higher risk of obesity for those using smartphones for 5+ hrs/day
…preventing children playing outside Children spend twice as long looking at screens as playing outside
damaging development of childrens spine Studies of young, healthy individuals show habitual use of smartphones causes musculoskeletal problems
Paediatricians, chiropractors and physiotherapists are warning of “text neck syndrome”
…stopping kids getting enough sleep

57% more teens sleep deprived in 2015 than in 1991
When they should be sleeping 80% of teens are using smartphones