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Adults Who Got Smartphones Younger in Life Report More Distress Now

A study found that people who got phones earlier in life report more mental distress as young adults — women especially who got phones as girls.

  • A study recirculating this week shows a depressing relationship between the age a kid first got a smartphone and mental health.
  • Women who used smartphones earlier in life reported far worse mental health as adults.
  • Bring back flip phones and AIM.

A chart picking up steam this week on social media might give parents of younger kids pause: Young adults who first owned smartphones in elementary school reported much worse mental health in adulthood than those who got the devices later in their teens.

The survey made me glad that, as a millennial, I’m part of the last generation that had a comparatively low-tech childhood.

I used a flip phone in middle school and into high school to remind my parents to pick me up from practice. T9 and a limited text plan relegated my tween after-school chatter to the only good social media platform, AOL Instant Messenger. (You might remember me as livelaxlove3 — RIP.)

The full study, published last year by the nonprofit group Sapien Labs, surveyed more than 27,000 young adults around the world, ages 18 to 24.

Even for people without childhood trauma, the relationship between the age of their first smartphone and adult mental health was significant, especially for women. (Of female survey respondents to the survey, 74% who first got a smartphone at age 6 reported they were “distressed or struggling” mentally, compared to 52% who got their first phone at 15.)

Women who get smartphones later than their peers report better mental health
Sapien Labs

I don’t envy parents struggling to figure out when to give their kids a smartphone, especially in light of surveys like these.

One mom wrote in Business Insider last year that age 6 was the right time to buy her gifted son a smartphone. (He wanted to take and catalog insect photos, the purest possible use.)

Parents looking for guidance may consider that the people who know the most about tech, like billionaires Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, raised their kids with limited technology.

Gates didn’t let his kids get phones until they turned 14.

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