During a lighthearted Mother’s Day dinner, my college-aged niece teased my mother for frequently
misplacing her iPhone. The playful banter highlighted the stark contrast in smartphone usage across
generations. As a young Gen Xer caught between a Boomer and a Zoomer, I witnessed the evolution
of smartphone habits.
Millennials and older Gen Xers, now raising kids themselves, remember the virtues of a device-free childhood while recognizing the positive and negative impacts of technology inadulthood. Observing both perspectives, I believe a more conservative approach is needed in the ongoing debate on when children should be granted smartphones. This morning, I received further validation in my inbox. A recent study by nonprofit research
organization Sapien Labs revealed that the younger children are when they receive their first
smartphones or tablets, the worse their mental health is in adulthood, with a more pronounced effect on females.
Sapien Labs conducted a survey on global mental health, asking nearly 29,000 adults aged 18 to 24 at what age they received their first device with internet access. They compared these responses with comprehensive questions about respondents’ current mental well-being. The results showed that those who received devices later in life had better mental health. Girls who received smartphones or tablets before the age of 10 were particularly affected, displaying mental health scores indicating they were currently dealing with or at risk of
serious conditions. This finding strongly supports parents who have chosen to delay introducing their young children to the world of handheld devices. According to Common Sense Media, the majority of children have a phone by the age of 11, and in 2021, around one in five kids aged 8 to 12 were on social media.
Smartphone ownership reaches 91% by the age of 14. Even at my age, having experienced the rise of smartphones during my high school years, I’ve witnessed the negative impact on my attention span, sleep patterns, and irrational fear of
missing out (FOMO). How can a child with an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex manage the overwhelming online stimuli? This is particularly concerning for impressionable girls, for whom smartphones become
gateways to a world of unrealistic beauty standards, facial filters, photoshopped bodies, and confusing gender ideologies. Parenting in today’s fast-paced world, where both parents are likely working full time and juggling various commitments,
leaves little room for wellintentioned rules like delaying smartphone access until the age of 14. It’s easy to succumb to children’s complaints about being the only one without a phone in their peer group, and parents understandably want the ability to reach their children in emergencies. While I don’t have children of my own, I am actively involved in the lives of my friends’ kids. I witness the benefits of implementing guardrails, such as parental controls, to limit what andwhen kids can access. I also see the power of setting boundaries and saying “no.” Establishing a later age threshold for smartphone access not only helps children learn to cope with disappointment and rejection but also introduces them to the concept of delayedgratification—a concept that is often absent in our instant gratification society, where every
comfort is accessible through a smartphone app.