Age at which children acquire cellphones unrelated to wellbeing, Stanford Medicine study finds | Information Center

“A possible explanation for these findings is that parents are doing a good job of tailoring their decisions to give their children phones to the needs of their child and family,” Robinson said. “These findings should be seen as empowering parents to do what they believe is right for their families.”

Early phone acquisition was not linked to problems, he noted, but neither was late phone acquisition, and “if parents want to delay, we haven’t seen the negative effects no more”.

Assess the well-being of children

When deciding whether to give a child a cell phone, parents usually consider many factors, such as whether the child needs a phone to find out where he is, to access the Internet, or to maintain social ties. ; the extent to which the phone can distract the child from sleep, homework or other activities; and whether the child is mature enough to handle risks such as exposure to social media, cyberbullying, or violent content online.

Previous research on the effects of children’s cell phone ownership has yielded mixed results, with some studies suggesting that phones interfere with sleep or grades and others showing no effect. Previous studies were limited because most only collected data at one or two time points.

In the Stanford Medicine study, the children were 7 to 11 years old at the start of the study and 11 to 15 years old at the end of the research. Each child and one parent participated in assessments at baseline and annually thereafter, for a total of five assessments per participant.

At each assessment, parents were asked if their child had a cell phone and if it was a smartphone. The median time between the last visit where the child did not own a phone and the first visit where he owned a phone was calculated as the age of acquisition.

At each visit, the children completed a standardized questionnaire to assess symptoms of depression. Parents reported the child’s most recent school grades and the child’s usual bedtime and waking times for school and non-school nights; they also answered a questionnaire about their child’s sleepiness during the day. After each visit, the children wore accelerometers on their right hip for a week, and the data was used as an objective measure of how well they fell asleep and how long they slept each night.

The analysis was controlled for several possible confounders, including child’s age at study entry, child’s sex and birth order, child’s country of birth and parents, marital status and parental education, family income, how often English was spoken at home, and how far the child had progressed through puberty.

That doesn’t mean you can’t take your child’s phone away if you think it’s taking up too much sleep time.

About 25% of children received a phone at 10.7 years old and 75% at 12.6 years old. Almost all children had phones by the age of 15. Of the children who owned phones, 99% had smartphones at the end of the study. The timing of children’s phone acquisition was similar to what was recorded in US cross-sectional samples.

Scientists investigated whether children’s wellbeing outcomes differed depending on whether or not they owned their own mobile phone and what happened to their wellbeing outcomes when they acquired their own phone ( going from not owning to owning a phone). They also carried out analyzes to test whether children’s well-being differed depending on the age at which they received their first mobile phone.

Initial comparisons between phone-owning and phone-non-owning status showed some indications of differences: while depression scores for the whole group fell over time, meaning they were less depressed, the decrease was slower when children had a phone than when they did not. Possible effects on sleep have also been noted: parents reported that children slept less on school nights when they had phones than when they did not – although this observation was not corroborated by measurements of children’s sleep from accelerometer data. . Accelerometer data showed that when children did not own phones, they slept slightly more on non-school nights.

No significant differences

However, when the team controlled for the statistical effect of multiple comparisons on the same data set, none of these correlations met the criteria for statistical significance.

The researchers conducted further analyzes to see if the children’s characteristics interacted with phone ownership to explain their wellbeing outcomes. Cell phone ownership was associated with lower levels of depressive symptoms in boys than in girls, and less depression in children with lower than higher sexual maturity. Phone ownership was also associated with less sleep in more mature children. These results highlight possible relationships to be examined more closely in future studies.

When the analyzes were conducted only on smartphones (vs. any mobile phone), the results were similar.

The overall pattern of results indicates that, in general, technology ownership is not positively or negatively related to children’s well-being. The researchers note that it may be more important to study what kids are doing with their technology than just whether they own a phone.

“These are average population-level trends,” Sun said. “There may still be individual differences. That doesn’t mean you can’t take your child’s phone away if you think it’s taking up too much sleep time.

The team is researching how people use their phones as part of the ongoing Human Screenome project at Stanford School of Medicine.

Also, the scientists note, the study did not give children completely unrestricted access to phones because their parents made decisions about their use of technology.

“At the level that we can measure, the timing itself [of acquiring a phone] doesn’t seem like a key factor because it’s happening in the larger context of parenthood,” Robinson said. “It’s not an argument for kids to tell their parents, ‘See, phones don’t have any impact. Parents should use their best judgment to determine what is right for their child, as indeed they seem to do.

The research was supported by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (grant U01HL103629), the Stanford Data Science Scholarship, the Stanford Maternal and Child Health Research Institute, and the Stanford Medicine Department of Pediatrics.

The research team includes members of Stanford Bio-X, Stanford Cardiovascular Institute, Stanford Wu Tsai Human Performance Alliance, Stanford Maternal and Child Health Research Institute, and Stanford Cancer Institute, as well as affiliates of the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence and the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.