Nearly 1 in 5 young adults shows 'problematic' use of electronic devices: CAMH survey

Ontario adults are spending more than 11 hours per week on email and social media, and almost four hours per week playing screen-based games over and above time spent on the devices at work or in school, according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health survey.
Too much screen time could damage your career or relationships, says CAMH researcher Dr. Hayley Hamilton. (Kate McGillivray/CBC)

If you have trouble putting your phone or tablet down, you're not alone — nearly one in five young Ontario adults shows "problematic" use of electronic devices, a new survey from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has found.

The researchers found up to 19 per cent of young adults aged 18 to 29 experience moderate to severe problematic use of electronic devices, which includes smartphones and tablets as well as computers and video-game consoles.

The survey also showed that Ontario adults of various ages are spending more than 11 hours per week on email and social media, and almost four hours per week playing screen-based games over and above time spent on the devices at work or in school.

'It is an addiction'

The study looked at use, not impacts, but CAMH researcher Dr. Hayley Hamilton said it's easy to imagine what the issues with too much screen time might be. 

"It can wreck your career, your employment, your [education]... There is a recognition that more needs to be done," she said. 

Constant device-checking is something University of Toronto student Abby Ryding can relate to.

"I'll look at Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr ... It is an addiction," she said.

"It is an addiction," says university student Abby Ryding. (Kate McGillivray)

The researchers asked the same questions they would ask of someone who has a gambling problem — things like whether someone's tension or anxiety could only be relieved by using a device, if the user had ever tried to cut back, and if friends and family had voiced concern.

Overall, the survey suggests seven per cent of Ontario adults have "problematic" involvement with electronic media, which totals more than 700,000 people.

37% texted while driving

The survey also touched on another disturbing issue: 37 per cent of survey respondents reported they had texted while driving at least once during the past year, while 11 per cent admitted texting behind the wheel 30 or more times over the previous year.

"It ties in with the observation that people are really engaged with their devices, and they're using them perhaps all the time. They're using them while they're driving, which we know is a very hazardous behaviour," said senior scientist Robert Mann, who co-authored the CAMH report.

A number of studies have calculated that for those who text while operating a motor vehicle, the risk of being involved in a collision is 20 times greater, Mann said.

With files from Kate McGillivray, The Canadian Press