A global survey conducted across 40 countries including India, reveals concerning implications for children given smartphones or tablets at a young age. The study suggests children exposed to smartphones at a young age are more likely to experience mental health problems as young adults.
On May 15, the study was conducted by US-based non-profit Sapien Labs, who had collected data from 27,969 young adults aged 18 to 24, with approximately 4,000 respondents from India. It reads: Young adults who owned smartphones during early childhood reported higher rates of suicidal thoughts, feelings of aggression, a sense of detachment from reality, and even hallucinations.
Women appeared more affected
The study suggested women are more affected globally. 74% of females who received smartphones at the age of 6 are experiencing serious mental health challenges as young adults. The percentage lands it in the “distressed” or “struggling” Mental Health Quotient (MHQ) range.
The percentage is low (61%) among those who acquire smartphones at age 10. It further decreased to 52% for those who receive it at 15. Of individuals who got smartphones at age 18, among them 46% are living mentally distressed or struggling.
Less impact on Males
While in males the trend is similar, the impact was less acute. Roughly 42% of males who acquired their first smartphone at age 6 were also classified under “distressed” or “struggling” mental states. The percentage is 36% for those who start using smartphones at age 18.
The study, titled “Age of first smartphone and Mental well-being outcome,” employed an assessment that encompassed a range of symptoms and mental capabilities, ultimately producing an aggregate Mental Health Quotient (MHQ). These scores were then compared to the reported age of first smartphone or tablet ownership among the respondents.
Neuroscientist Tara Thiagarajan, founder and chief scientist of Sapien Labs, emphasises the adverse implications of early smartphone ownership on mental health.
The scientist said, “Getting your phone early means more mental health problems as an adult, particularly suicidal thoughts, feelings of aggression towards others, and a sense of being detached from reality. Altogether, it leads to a poorer sense of 'social self,' including how one views oneself and relates to others.”
What is the percentage in India?
Last year, another study conducted by McAfee – Global Connected Family shows that in India, smartphone use among children aged 10-14 is 83%, surpassing the international average of 76%.
While the Sapien Labs study establishes a strong correlation between early smartphone use and mental health issues in young adulthood, it does not delve into the underlying causes.
Thiagarajan, however, provided insights into the matter, pointing out that children spend between 5 and 8 hours a day online, which accumulates to approximately 2,950 hours per year.
Prior to the arrival of smartphones, a significant portion of time was spent engaging with family and friends. She drew an analogy to sports, highlighting that social behavior, like football skills, requires practice and learning. Children are missing out on essential social practices due to excessive smartphone usage, leading to difficulties in navigating the social world.
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