What is it about?

The majority of children own a smartphone and almost all preteenagers already have access to other digital devices, such as tablets, laptops/PCs or smartwatches. In many cases, these devices are used excessively which has sparked a debate about "digital addiction". In this study, we wanted to find out which kids had a higher risk of experiencing negative psychological, physiological, social and academic outcomes due to digital device use. We found that children who preferred immediate gratification to larger, delayed rewards tended to be more negatively affected by use of smartphones, tablets etc. In contrast, children higher in self-control, meaning those able to control their thoughts, emotions and behavior in line with set goals, were much less likely to experience addiction-like symptoms, such as withdrawal, social conflict or mood modification. Moreover, self-controlled children achieved better grades, on average, than children with lower self-control.

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Why is it important?

The adoption of digital devices by children has ocurred before many of the short- and long-term risks associated with usage are known. Children are especially vulnerable to addictive substances and behaviors, yet the majority of existing research on digital device use has focused on adults. Our study gives initial insights about which characteristics of a child indicate a higher risk of problematic use of smartphones, tablets and laptops/PCs, namely impulsivity. Also, we show which capability may act as a "protective shield" against children's addictive digital device use, namely self-control.


Before this study, I was aware of the many benefits of good self-control, such as higher academic performance, better social relationships and fewer problematic behaviors, in students and adults. Analyzing my data, I was impressed by the powerful role of self-control has in preventing adverse effects of digital device use by young children. Self-control seems to help children immensely in avoiding endless scrolling through social media or playing digital games for longer durations than it is healthy for them.

Tim Schulz van Endert
Freie Universitat Berlin

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Addictive use of digital devices in young children: Associations with delay discounting, self-control and academic performance, PLoS ONE, June 2021, PLOS,
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0253058.
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