Earlier this week, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy declared that social media poses a ““meaningful risk of harm to children” in his latest advisory. Now, a global study of nearly 30,000 young adults shows a strong correlation between the age at which children receive their first smartphone and the status of their mental health. The study also found that trends of lower self-worth, motivation and resilience were stronger among females compared to males
“In the study, participants who got their first smartphone before age 10 are doing worse, on average, than those who didn’t get one until they were in their teens. The benefits of waiting until high school for smartphones are undeniable,” Dr. Jessica Gomez, executive director of Momentous Institute who was not involved in the study, said in an email to Fortune.
Researchers determined that the older children were when they received their first smartphone or tablet, the better their mental well-being was as adults. However, those who received their first smartphone at a younger age were “more likely to experience suicidal thoughts, feelings of aggression towards others and a sense of being detached from reality.”
The study, which was conducted by Sapien Labs as part of the Global Mind Project, an ongoing survey of global mental well-being, used a comprehensive assessment called the Mental Health Quotient, or MHQ, to determine mental well-being. The assessment includes 47 elements covering a range of symptoms and mental capabilities, which are then categorized into six dimensions of well-being:
- Mood & Outlook
- Social Self
- Adaptability & Resilience
- Drive & Motivation
- Mind-Body Connection
The impact of social media on mental health
According to statistics found in Murthy’s advisory, adolescents who spend at least three hours a day on social media “face double the risk of mental health problems including experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety.” The national average for time spent on social media for eighth- and 10th-graders is 3.5 hours a day.
Although children under 13 technically are not allowed to sign up for accounts on social media sites, such as TikTok and Snapchat, it is easy to bypass restrictions. Nearly 95% of young people between the ages of 13 and 17 report using a social media platform, with more than a third saying they use social media “almost constantly,” as previously reported in Fortune.
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