Study: 70 Percent of Italian College Students At Risk of ‘Problematic Smartphone Usage’

Photo of University of Catania

A research article published earlier this year in the journal Life Span and Disability shows “kids these days” are abusing technology all over the world, as 70 percent of Italian college students are at risk of “problematic smartphone usage.”

(Now, a couple caveats about this study before I continue. The students were mostly “humanities” studies, meaning the kids who were studying to be nurses and engineers were left out for the most part, and all the students attended University of Catania in Italy. But I’m going to continue to generalize and criticize the younger generation, as is my right as someone who’s old enough to wake up every morning with lower back pain.)

What exactly is ‘PSU’? Hint: It’s not Penn State University

You can read the entire study here, but I’ll give you the gist: Basically, the researchers found that 7 out of 10 college students surveyed were at risk of smartphone addiction, to the point where it was harming their mental well-being and social lives, decreasing healthy cognitive function and increasing anxiety.

Is anyone surprised by this? No, I don’t think anyone who’s seen a group of college-age kids out in public only interacting with each other to show a funny video on their phones is surprised by this.

What is a little surprising is that these are Italian college kids at risk of smartphone addiction. I could forgive students at my alma mater, located in Terre Haute, IN, a very un-picturesque Midwestern town, for wanting to escape into their phones. But shouldn’t these Italian college kids be too busy taking in the natural beauty around them to be worried about social media or sending emoji meatballs and cannolis to their friends?

Academic Findings Re-Worded for Everyday People

Thank God Italians didn’t have smartphones back in Da Vinci’s day. Otherwise, instead of brilliant ideas fleshed out like Vitruvian man, all we might have gotten from the brilliant man was a poop emoji.

Anyway, here are some excerpts from the article, translated from stuffy scholarly academic talk to plain English.

Academic Speak: 70 percent of students are at risk of “problematic smartphone usage” (PSU).
Plain English: “Problematic smartphone usage” is performing mindless tasks on your phone during what some might consider an inappropriate time, such as taking a selfie with the caption “Trying to make the most of a bad hair day (kissy emoji)” while driving down the Interstate.

Academic Speak: Smartphones have become an integral part of our lives without considering the cognitive and social consequences that the problematic use of smartphones, often not reasoned, can produce already from the pediatric age.
Plain English: Smartphones are making adults stupider and less happy, and on top of that we’re turning our kids over to the little soul-sucking distraction machines.

Academic Speak: Some limits of our study have to be outlined. The sample was composed of students, and humanistic disciplines were over-represented. Moreover, the significant number of the participants who were found to be “addicted” using the SAS-SV criteria would require a diagnostic investigation integrating a clinical diagnosis according to DSM-5.
Plain English: Anyone with half a brain knows these kids are addicted to their phones, but the authors are married to clinical psychologists, and therefore want you to sign up for weeks of intensive $200/hr. therapy before you can definitely classify young Johnny Gianni as “smart phone addicted”.

My prediction is research will continue to reveal what a lot of us already know, if we’re willing to admit it: The negative effects smartphones have on our brains and souls may soon (if it hasn’t already) outweigh the benefits.

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