Youth smartphone use linked to future mental health problems: Study

cChildren who accessed smartphones at a young age have worse mental health outcomes as adults, according to a new study.

A Sapien Labs study last month of 27,969 global Generation Z members found that the sooner a child has access to a smartphone, the more likely they are to have mental health issues in the future.


Children thrive most on engaging real-world family and friends in-person, exercise, volunteering, and religious activities,” said University of Virginia sociologist and Institute for Family Studies senior fellow W. Bradford Wilcox Washington Examiner. “They are more likely to fail when caught in the virtual worlds offered by smartphones.”

The study finds that with each new Gen Z generation being the first to be confronted with essentially unadulterated access to the internet, “overall mental well-being is systematically lower.”

Pew Research data cited in the report shows that 96 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 own a smartphone, and 48 percent report being on the Internet “almost constantly.” Additionally, data from 2021 showed that, in America, 31% of 8-year-olds, 71% of 12-year-olds, and 91% of 14-year-olds own a smartphone.

Estimates also suggest that 13-18 year olds spend an average of 8.4 hours in front of a screen per day, while 8-12 year olds spend 5.3 hours doing the same.

With the overwhelming level of smartphone use by young people, Sapien’s study suggests that the older a child is when they get their first smartphone, the better their mental health will be once they reach adulthood.

The pattern was present for both men and women, but was much steeper for women. 74% of women who received their first smartphone at age 6 fell into the mentally “distressed” or “distressed” bracket, compared to 46% who first received their device at age 18 .

Mental health outcomes improved with increasing age at first introduction. For girls who received their first telephone at the age of 10, 61% were in the negative range and 52% of 15-year-olds were in the same range.

For boys, 42% who got their phone at 6am had mental health problems, which dropped to 36% for those who got their phone at 6pm.

Adults aged 45 and older who lived most of their lives before smartphones came online only re-entered the band at a rate of 14%.

The occurrence of all of the top five mental health problems, such as suicidal thoughts or intentions, aggression toward others, and a sense of detachment from reality, decreased dramatically with increasing age at first introduction.

For both men and women, suicidal thoughts or intentions saw the greatest decline when people were introduced to smartphones in later life.

Self-perception has also been influenced by the introduction of the smartphone.

Using a metric the study calls ‘social self’, which measures ‘how we see ourselves and relate to others’ and ‘positive integration into the social world’, the researchers found that the older a person is the more he receives for the first time they used a smartphone, the better the perception they had of themselves. The improvement was again more significant for women than for men.

“The virtual world eliminates important and essential enabling sensory modalities of human social interaction and bonding and is not an equivalent substitute,” the study states. “It can also create a distorted sense of one’s social world that exacerbates its effects.”

“Together, these results also describe a progressive shift of the global population toward a population that has decreased social ability and resilience, and that harbors more frequent suicidal thoughts and feelings of aggression toward others, as the median age of the former smartphone purchase becomes younger.” continues.

This study coincides with multiple reports on loneliness and specifically female mental health issues in relation to social media use.

A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 57% of adolescent girls reported feelings of sadness and hopelessness, and 30% seriously considered suicide.

Similarly, the US surgeon general recently issued a health advisory highlighting an “loneliness epidemic” and emphasizing the importance of human social interaction.

The connection of serious mental health problems to Internet and social media use, particularly as a youth, has prompted Congress and some states to consider measures giving parents greater oversight of children’s Internet use. own children.


Three bills have been introduced in Congress to protect children from the harms of social media. Similarly, a growing number of states, including Utah, Virginia, and Louisiana, have taken steps to prevent age-verified children from accessing pornographic content online.

Wilcox told the Washington Examiner the mounting evidence should encourage a greater movement around protections across the country, she said: “This new research provides more evidence for the idea that parents and policy makers should do everything they can to delay children’s access to smartphones.

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