Kirsten Fleming


May 15, 2023 | 7:26 p.m

At Mother’s Day dinner on Sunday, my college-aged niece scolded my mom for constantly putting her iPhone down.

My seven-year-old mother said, “Unlike you, I was born without a mobile phone in my hand, so it’s not an extra thing for me.”

It was good-natured family banter.

But sitting between Boomer and Zoomer, I, a young Gen Xer, can see the full spectrum and evolution of our smartphone habits.

In general, it’s millennials and younger Generation Xers who are raising kids now. We’re old enough to remember the virtues of our device-free childhoods and appreciate how technology has made our lives better and worse as adults.

And having seen both sides, I can’t help but feel that we need a more conservative approach to the debate over when kids should be allowed smartphones.

Then this morning, further proof of this arrived in my mailbox.

A A new study by non-profit research organization Sapien Labs reports When young children are given smartphones or tablets for the first time, their mental health worsens as adults. Not surprisingly, this relationship is stronger in women.

A young girl enters on her cell phone.
Getty Images / iStockphoto

Sapien Labs conducts ongoing research on global mental health. For its latest report, it asked nearly 29,000 adults ages 18 to 24 at what age they got their first smartphone or mobile device with Internet access.

They then cross-referenced those responses with responses to general questions about respondents’ current mental health.

The later a person receives a device, the better their current mental health.

Girls who were admitted under the age of 10 had a particularly negative impact later in life – with mental health outcomes indicating they were now “at risk of or associated with serious mental health problems”.

A new study looks at mental health in young people and getting their first smartphone.

This is a vital support for parents who stand to give their young children a window into the world in their hands.

According to Common Sense Media, most kids by 11, and by 2021, will have a phone. One in five children between the ages of 8 and 12 are on social media. By the age of 14, smartphone ownership has reached 91 percent.

At the age when I was “watching the OJ verdict in high school,” I saw how the smartphone cut into my focus, frustrated me with insomnia, and gave me irrational FOMO.

How is a child without a fully developed prefrontal cortex supposed to manage all the online stimuli?

Especially amazing girls, the smartphone as hell with unrealistic beauty standards, face filters, photoshop elements and strange gender ideologies to name a few minefields.

Raising children in today’s world is a treadmill set to full speed with both parents working full-time. Youth sports and other extracurricular pursuits have placed many demands on adults’ time, wallets, and patience, giving them something to pursue in the pursuit of fitness.

A teenager is buried in their smartphone.
Image combination via Getty Images

Usually those are well-intentioned rules—it’s easy to make a promise like that to not give your child a smartphone until they turn 14. It’s easy to run away when kids complain that they’re the only phone-free in their peer group. Also, parents want to reach their children in case of emergency.

I have no children of my own. But I am very active in the lives of my friends’ children. I attend and attend games, at home and at recess. I ask a lot of questions from my friends and their kids, and I see emerging trends with behavior and parenting styles.

More than anything else, I see the effectiveness of protection methods like parental controls limiting what and when kids can see. And I see the power of saying “no.”

Later on, setting a limit and sticking to it not only helps kids deal with frustration and rejection, but also helps them learn the concept of delayed gratification — not so much in an on-demand society where all creature comforts are available through an app on your phone.

Also, children may not understand the responsibility that comes with unlimited access to smartphones.

And as parents, teachers, and authorities, we abdicate our own responsibilities if we freely hand over this loaded device to unprepared children.

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