Mobile Use During Adolescence: Determinants and Impacts

Mobile Use During Adolescence: Determinants and Impacts

Melody M. Terras (University of the West of Scotland, UK) and Judith Ramsay (Manchester Metropolitan University, UK)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7885-7.ch001
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Equipped with psychological theories of development, the authors of this chapter argue that the impacts of mobile technology should be situated in and understood within their different contexts of use. Besides their advocacy of a situated and integrated approach to understanding the psychological determinants of mobile use and the impact on development, the authors also call for increased interdisciplinary and integrated working to capture the complexity of technology and behaviour and the recognition of individual differences.
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Mobile phones are ubiquitous in everyday life and are having a profound impact on the way people of all ages work, learn, play and communicate. Children are the fastest growing population of mobile phone users: recent research in the UK indicates that mobile ownership and use is highest among children aged 12-15 years, with 55% owning their own tablet and 83% owing a smartphone (Ofcom, 2017). Despite the widespread use of smartphones, understanding of the scope and scale of their impact on children’s development remains limited and the evidence base concerning the psychological factors that determine their impact and use is currently highly fragmented (Terras & Ramsay, 2016).

Initially research focused on smartphone use by adults, but in recent years there has been increased research on smartphone use by children. In the beginning, research was quite demographic and rather descriptive in nature focusing on documenting levels of ownership and patterns of use. More recently research has begun to explore socio-demographic and psychological factors in order to understand how and why smartphones are influencing, not only personal and societal practices concerning communication and internet use, but also the opportunities and challenges this presents for children’s behaviour and development. An influential example of this type of research are the recent large-scale European studies that investigated the factors that influenced children’s (9-16 years) use of the internet and smartphones. The results indicate the significant and complex influence of a range contextual factors such as parental and family use and attitudes concerning mobile devices and societal and cultural norms (Livingstone et al., 2015; Masheroni & Olafsson, 2015). Such findings are an important and timely reminder of the crucial influence of context in determining behaviour and highlight that it is imperative to consider the range of contextual factors that influence the use of mobile devices and how this use can impact on development.

Mobile devices, especially smart phones not only offer children increased opportunities for communication, both by speech and text, but the internet access they support provides access to a wide array of information, resources, social media and online spaces where they can learn, socialise, apply and develop their cognitive and social-emotional skills. Smartphones afford children a range of complex digital contexts to operate in and interact with i.e. smartphones provide access to “new contexts of development and being” (Terras & Ramsay, 2016, p. 2) and it is therefore essential to fully understand the nature of these contexts, the impact they may have on development, and the processes through which their influence occurs. We propose that such questions will be most successfully addressed by adopting a psychological perspective: the primary aim of psychology is to identify and understand determinants of behaviour. In particular we draw upon theory and research from developmental psychology as it has a well-established tradition of recognising and mapping the influence of context on development. Therefore, in this chapter we offer a psychologically-informed critical review and synthesis of the existing literature and identify how development is being influenced by smartphone use and the contexts and processes through which this occurs. We discuss how the increasing use of mobile technology and the internet access it supports, is changing the nature of existing developmental contexts and creating new online contexts for psychological development. Two key developmental contexts: parents and peers are considered in-depth and we illustrate how mobile technology, especially smartphones are influencing parenting practices and the growth of parental mediation strategies; peer group influences on mobile use and the impact of mobile use on social behaviour and relationships are also examined. The discussion will focus specifically on adolescence as this age group of children are the heaviest users of smartphones and it is essential to understand the impact smartphone use is having during this formative phase of psychological development. We conclude by summarising the insights that this psychological perspective offers and demonstrate how viewing smartphone use through a psychological lens, drawing on theory, research and methodology, helps to provide a framework within which to situate future research that is more explanatory in nature and helps to shape the future research agenda.

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