Policy changes needed to regulate the age of smartphone use


A new global study has revealed that the age at which children get their first smartphone affects their mental health as adults. Those aged 18-24, who got smartphones at a young age, were found to have poorer mental health.

Policy changes are needed to regulate the age at which young adults own smartphones, said Shailender Swaminathan, Director of Sapien Labs Center for Human Brain and Mind, India.

“Although nothing can stop a person from owning a smartphone, some policy changes should be brought, at least at the school levels, to regulate the use. The later the age, the better,” said by Swaminathan at Moneycontrol.

He spoke at the release of a study, Age of First Smartphone and Mental Well-being Outcomes. The new global study was conducted by the Sapien Labs Center for the Human Brain and Mind, a collaboration between Sapien Labs of the US and the Institute for Financial Management and Research (IFMR).

The study revealed that young adults aged 18-24, who got smartphones at an early age in their lives, were found to have poorer mental health, with women more severely affected than to men.

It added that the percentage of boys experiencing mental health challenges dropped from 42 percent for those who got their first smartphone at age 6, to 36 percent for those who got it at age 18. For among women, the percentage drops from 74 percent at age 6 to 46 percent at age 18.

For all smartphone-owning children under the age of 15, mental health progress was steeper than for those aged 15 and over.

Social self

“The decline is strongest for age groups below the age of 15,” Swaminathan said. He added: “It was exactly above the age of 15, when we moved to 16-17, the decline was less pronounced.”

The study also observed that when children get smartphones at an older age, their social selves improve.

The Social Self, the study points out, is a measure of our positive integration into the social world. It includes various aspects such as self-image, self-confidence, ability to develop and maintain positive relationships, and to cooperate with others.

“The internet works in a way that puts you in social comparisons. How you are perceived is prime. It increases self-doubt in children when accessed at a young age,” said Swaminathan.

“Social bonds are an important part of a child’s development. When a child spends hours on the phone, he loses touch with the reality of his surroundings, doesn’t learn social cues, thus hindering social bonds,” added Swaminathan.

Suicidal thoughts

Studies have shown that mental health problems such as suicidal thoughts, feelings of aggression towards others, feelings of detachment from reality, and hallucinations are significantly reduced if children get these smartphone in the next part of their life.

“While many mental health problems decreased at an older age of first smartphone acquisition, suicidal thoughts and intentions decreased significantly for both men and women,” the study said.

“It is not always the case that adolescent mental health is bad. This is a recent phenomenon. The study is needed to find what has changed and the results are dramatic, pointing to a need for immediate intervention,” says Swaminathan.

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