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Should Smartphones really be banned for children or do scientists have a bigger problem?

09 April 2019 | by Guest

The following guest article, provided on behalf of our Cyberpsychology Section, has been written by David Ellis, Brittany Davidson, and Linda Kaye.

In the article "Should smartphones be banned for children?”, which appeared in this month’s Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking journal, Brenda Wiederhold suggests that “excessive smartphone use can lead to a myriad of potential problems” (Wiederhold, 2019, p2).

Yet this article, by ignoring current evidence and relying on newspaper articles, overlooks a great deal of high-quality empirical work that has appeared in the very same journal.

This is disappointing, to say the least, given that this journal has previously published many excellent editorials (e.g., Wiederhold, 2015).

One of the key issues with the article, and with the field in general, is that it continues to pathologise everyday behaviours to the point where the majority of the population can be classified as presenting ‘problematic’ or ‘addictive’ tendencies (see Panova & Carbonell, 2018 for review), while simultaneously ignoring or overlooking large and statistically robust studies which suggest that the impact of technology use on well-being has been vastly overstated (Orben & Przybylski, 2019).

Methodological shortcomings also continue to remain an area of great concern. For example, the assessment of technology use via self-report does not align well with objective behaviour (Andrews, Ellis, Shaw & Piwek, 2016; Ellis, Davidson, Shaw, & Geyer, 2018; Ellis, 2019), and technology ‘addiction’ inventories continue to be developed without subsequent validation.

The harsh reality is that unsubstantiated claims about the impact of technology use on people and society continue to be repeated irrespective of new evidence suggesting the contrary, and several scholars in the field of cyberpsychology appear unable to accept or acknowledge this.

And while editors should play a key role in shaping the discourse and direction of their journals and be in a position to engage fully with the processes of academic debate, disjointed editorial practices perhaps reflect a general reluctance from some prominent scholars to engage with academic debate.

Not only that, but editorials that are positioned somewhat apart from the discourses of their respective journals raise questions over the purpose these serve, especially when the same journals ignore requests from authors who wish to submit a formal response.

This all comes at a time when prominent scholars in the field have suggested that the public should not believe scientists who disagree with them, which completely undermines the entire premise of science and betrays public trust – where we are reliant on a self-correction.

These realities present a new, and very real, challenge for the British Psychological Society.

Ultimately the BPS and its members have a key role to play when drawing together sufficient resources to ensure that key societal issues - such as the effects of smartphones on children, and individuals of all ages more generally - are fully investigated and interrogated both during the testing stage and before being more widely disseminated.

References

  • Andrews, S., Ellis, D. A., Shaw, H., & Piwek, L. (2016). Beyond self-report: Tools to compare estimates and real world smartphone use. PLoS ONE, 10 (10), e0139004
  • Ellis, D. A. (2019). Are smartphones really that bad? Improving the psychological measurement of technology-related behaviors. Computers in Human Behavior, 97, 60-66
  • Ellis, D. A., Davidson, B. I., Shaw, H., & Geyer, K. (2018). Do smartphone usage scales predict behavior? PsyArXiv. DOI: 10.31234/osf.io/6fjr7
  • Orben, A. & Przybylski, A. (2019). The association between adolescent well-being and digital technology use. Nature Human Behaviour, 3, 173-182
  • Panova, T., & Carbonell, X. (2018). Is smartphone addiction really an addiction? Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 7 (2), 252-259
  • Wiederhold, B. K. (2015). Behavioral health apps abundant, but evidence-based research nearly nonexistent. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 18 (6), 309-310.
  • Wiederhold, B. K. (2019). Should Smartphone use be banned for children. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 22 (4), 1-2

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