The scale of digital device addiction among young people has been laid bare in a new study by Kings College London that shows a quarter of children and teenagers are now exhibiting “problematic smartphone usage”.

The research, based on analysis of 41 studies published over the last decade, found smartphone behavioural patterns consistent with addiction with many youngsters feeling either “upset” or “panicky” if they don’t have immediate access to a device.

Many smartphone users are also unable to regulate the time they spend staring at screens during the day and admit that usage is having a detrimental impact on other areas of life and day-to-day activities.

The behaviour is a ticking time bomb that could eventually lead to a mental health epidemic as addictive behaviour often leads to sleep deprivation, stress, anxiety and depression, which can affect achievement at school.

Kings College London’s Nicola Kalk said smartphones are “here to stay” but believes there needs to be a greater understanding of problematic usage moving forward.

She admitted that they were still unsure whether smartphones are inherently addictive or if the troublesome consequences stem from the apps and games installed on them.

“Nevertheless, there is a need for public awareness around smartphone use in children and young people, and parents should be aware of how much time their children spend on their phones.”

Co-author Samantha Sohn hopes the study, which found around 10-30% of young people currently have a dysfunctional relationship with smartphones, will lead to further investigations into the problem.