Children's mobile phone usage may have negative impact on development, report says

Mobile phone use among young children may cause “significant educational costs”, with those who own a phone at nine years old faring less well in academic development as they get older, according to the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

The ESRI found the negative association between early smartphone use and academic development persisted across socio-economic groups, regardless of a child’s background.

It used data on 8,500 nine-year-old children in Ireland from the ‘Growing Up in Ireland’ study, to examine how children with longer or shorter periods of mobile phone ownership performed on standardised reading and maths tests.

It found that children who owned a mobile phone at nine years-old scored 4% less on average in standardised reading and maths tests by the time they were 13.

“Parents and policymakers should consider whether the benefits of phone availability for children are sufficiently large to justify such costs,” the report warns.

Selina McCoy, Associate Research Professor at the ESRI said the study is the first time the ESRI has looked at the impact of mobile phone ownership on children’s academic development.

She said:

“It is important to keep monitoring this going forward in order to provide evidence for the growing debate about the potential effects of screen time and mobile phone use of young people in Ireland."

The study reveals that children’s access to mobile phones is influenced by their family and school characteristics.

Children with more highly educated parents and those with higher incomes are less likely to own a phone at a young age, while children attending more socially disadvantaged schools are more likely to have phones.

However the study’s authors said such factors were considered when assessing the outcomes for their research, and the negative association between early smartphone use and academic development was consistent regardless of background.

The findings may inform the ongoing debate about the benefits and pitfalls surrounding the use of smartphones by young people.

Last year the then-Education Minister Richard Bruton issued a circular calling for consultation between parents, teachers, and students about the use of devices in schools.

"New technologies are fundamentally transforming the world we live in. While these changes offer fantastic opportunities for our young people they are also associated with potential risks, which we as a Government are responding to," Mr Bruton said at the time.

Last summer Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell introduced a Bill that would prohibit the use of smartphones in schools by students.

The proposal would operate a ‘three strikes’ system that would see a child’s phone confiscated for a day, a week, or an entire school term depending on the number of times they are caught using the device during class.

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