Academic journal article International Journal of Child and Adolescent Health

A Review of Research on Phone Addiction Amongst Children and Adolescents in Hong Kong

Academic journal article International Journal of Child and Adolescent Health

A Review of Research on Phone Addiction Amongst Children and Adolescents in Hong Kong

Article excerpt


"The zombies are everywhere," reports the South China Morning Post (1). "They wander the streets, shopping malls and MTR corridors, heads down and oblivious to the world around them... [They are busy] playing Candy Crush, messaging friends, watching videos or liking Facebook posts and Instagram photos. They won't eat you, but they might gnaw at your nerves." Smartphone culture is increasingly growing in Hong Kong, to the point that a Cantonese colloquialism has been invented to identify this: dai tau juk, or "head-down tribe." Distracted walking can have comical effects; for example, a video went viral on the Internet, showing a distracted woman falling into a shopping mall fountain. However, in some cases (i.e., phoning while driving) it might cause accidents and can seriously impair one's own life causing financial problems, sleep disturbances, or conflicts among peers, causing annoyances to others when the phone is used improperly (i.e., at the wrong moment, or in the wrong place like in cinemas, or simply by using it excessively).

By June 2013, the total number of mobile phone service subscribers in Hong Kong was 16.71 million (against a population of about 7 million people), which represents one of the highest proportions in Asia and the world, higher than 230% (2).

Young people who have grown up with digital innovations rely more than the older generations on digital sources; they are the primary users of smartphones and also the most likely to develop problems of smartphone addiction. Unsurprisingly, in countries like Australia, China, Spain, Japan, and Korea, youth between 15-24 years old have been described as the "most likely cohort" to report smartphone addictive behavior (3-7).

A recent survey of 5,366 Asian adolescents from 12 to 18 years old found that the proportion of smartphone ownership ranged from 41% in China to 56% in Hong Kong to 84% in South Korea (8). In Hong Kong there is the highest percentage of youth reporting daily Internet use (68%) and online shopping as well as the longest duration of Internet use on holiday. The researchers noted that Hong Kong, China, Japan, and South Korea are Confucian heritage societies, where the expression of individual creativity may be suppressed; thus, they speculated that the Internet may represent a platform where youth express their individuality and their emotions outside the family system, yet remaining within their culture. Thus, the mobile phone may represent more than a technologically advanced tool for communication; subsequently, its overuse may not be necessarily negative, or symptomatic, but adaptive to a certain context. Since the mobile phone normally serves relational purposes, its (over)use should be examined in light of various psycho-social and cultural characteristics.

To understand the phenomenon and related issues of smartphone addiction among children and adolescents in Hong Kong, we attempted to conduct a literature review of the related studies conducted in Hong Kong.


In May 2015, we conducted research of the relevant literature among publications and reports from the Hong Kong Government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). English key words were used when searching in international academic databases, while both English and Chinese key words were used when searching non-academic reports on the Internet. Keywords included "phone addiction" OR "phone overuse" OR "smartphone," "youth" OR "adolescents" and "Hong Kong." Two criteria were adopted when selecting relevant studies. First, the sample of the study included participants aged from 6 to 25. Second, the study focused on smartphones and their use and misuse.

Results and discussion

Mobile phones and instant messaging applications have drastically changed the way people communicate, frequently to the detriment of face-to-face communication. Ma et al. (9) surveyed 1,494 Hong Kong youth aged 17 to 20 years about the use of social media. …

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