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Problematic cell phone use for text messaging and substance abuse in early adolescence (11- to 13-year-olds)


The aim of our study was to examine the association between problematic cell phone use (PCPU) for text messaging and substance abuse in young adolescents. This cross-sectional study was conducted on the basis of an ad hoc questionnaire, during the 2014–2015 school year in a province of the Veneto Region (Italy); it involved a sample of 1156 students in grades 6 to 8 (11 to 13 years old). A self-report scale based on the Short Message Service (SMS) Problem Use Diagnostic Questionnaire (SMS-PUDQ) was administered to assess the sample’s PCPU. A multivariate logistic regression model was applied to seek associations between PCPU (as the dependent variable) and independent variables. The proportion of students who reported a PCPU increased with age in girls (13.5 % in 6th grade, 16.4 % in 7th grade, and 19.5 % in 8th grade), but not in boys (14.3 % in 6th grade, 18.0 % in 7th grade, and 14.8 % in 8th grade). Logistic regression showed that drunkenness at least once and energy drink consumption raised the odds of PCPU, whereas reading books, higher average school marks, and longer hours of sleep were associated with lower odds of PCPU in early adolescence.

Conclusion: our findings confirm a widespread PCPU for text messaging among early adolescents. The odds of PCPU is greater in young people at risk of other substance abuse behavior.

What is Known:
Problematic cell phone use (PCPU) is associated with smoking and alcohol consumption in older adolescence.
What is New:
PCPU is widespread in early adolescence and it is associated with other unhealthy types of behavior.
Prevention, based on a multicomponent intervention strategy, should take PCPU into account for early adolescents too.

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Cell phone use


Information and communication technology


Problematic cell phone use


SMS Problem Use Diagnostic Questionnaire


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Funding for this study was provided by the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Padova e Rovigo, which is a nonprofit organization that has been working for the last 20 years to promote the quality of life and sustainable development of the territory of Padua and Rovigo. The Foundation had no role in the design of the study; the collection, analysis, and interpretation of the data; the writing of the manuscript; or the decision to submit the paper for publication. We thank all the schools in the province of Padua and the individual students who participated in the study.

Authors’ contributions

Dr Gallimberti conceptualized the study, coordinated all study phases, and approved the final manuscript as submitted. Dr. Buja designed the study, carried out the statistical analyses, reviewed and revised the manuscript, and approved the final manuscript as submitted. Dr Chindamo designed the data collection instruments, coordinated and supervised data collection at different school, and approved the final manuscript as submitted. Dr Marini, Dr Rabensteiner, and Dr Terraneo are involved in data collection at different schools and approved the final manuscript as submitted. Dr Gomez interpreted the data, critically reviewed and revised the manuscript, and approved the final manuscript as submitted. Dr Baldo designed the sampling methods, critically reviewed and revised the manuscript, and approved the final manuscript as submitted.

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Correspondence to Alessandra Buja.

Ethics declarations

• The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose. The founder had no role in study design; data collection, analysis, and interpretation; manuscript drafting; or the decision to submit the paper for publication.

• The study was approved by the Ethical Committee at Padua Teaching Hospital. All procedures were in accordance with the ethical standards of our institutional research committee, and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments, or comparable ethical standards.

• Consent to the students’ participation was first obtained from the school director. If this was granted, the prevention program was included in the school’s teaching plan, which is signed by parents at the start of the school year. Then all parents of the students enrolled were asked to sign a consent form and the students themselves also signed an assent form.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

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Communicated by Peter de Winter

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Gallimberti, L., Buja, A., Chindamo, S. et al. Problematic cell phone use for text messaging and substance abuse in early adolescence (11- to 13-year-olds). Eur J Pediatr 175, 355–364 (2016).

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  • Adolescents
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Energy drink consumption
  • Problematic cell phone use
  • Substance abuse