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Sunday 21 July 2019

Pupils with phones have worse maths, reading skills

Effect: Children in poorer communities were more likely to have a phone. Stock picture
Effect: Children in poorer communities were more likely to have a phone. Stock picture
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Giving a mobile phone to a child aged nine leads to worse maths and reading skills, according to major new Irish research.

Tracking 8,500 children between the ages of nine and 13, the research is a collaboration between the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), the Department of Communications and the telecoms regulator ComReg.

It claims that children who have a mobile phone at age nine score 4pc lower on average in standardised reading and maths tests by the age of 13. It also found that 40pc of children aged nine own a mobile phone.

'Growing Up in Ireland' is a Government-funded study of children being carried out jointly by the ESRI and Trinity College Dublin. The study started in 2006 and has been measuring results since then.

"The data suggests cognitive effects on children of having a phone at that age," said Selina McCoy, associate research professor at the ESRI and a contributor to the research.

"These could include impact on memory patterns or effects on sleep duration."

The research will add a new layer of data to the ongoing debate over how much access children should have to screens at a young age. "4pc off the standard test results is a statistically significant amount," said Ms McCoy.

The research also found children in poorer socio-economic communities were more likely to have a mobile phone at the age of nine than those in more affluent communities.

"In particular, we saw more kids in Deis schools with mobile phones," said Ms McCoy. "There may be a peer influence factor going on."

Other academic research suggests that children from poorer socio-economic backgrounds fare poorer academically than their wealthier counterparts.

However, the study claims "the observed association between mobile phone ownership and test scores remains when we take account of many of the factors which typically influence test scores such as socio-economic class".

Ms McCoy said that the researchers found that even within the same socio-economic communities, children with mobile phones scored less well in academic tests than children without handsets.

"This is the first time the ESRI has looked at the impact of mobile phone ownership on children's academic development," said Ms McCoy.

"It is important to keep monitoring this going forward in order to provide evidence for the growing debate about the potential effects of screen time and mobile phone use of young people in Ireland."

Recent studies in the US and Britain have found that children spend an average of four hours per day using digital services on phones and tablets.

"As schools have recently been consulting with their staff, students and parents on the place of personal devices in the school setting, these results may help schools in making decisions on whether and when to restrict access to personal devices, particularly during the primary school years," concluded the report.

However, the ESRI research did not examine in more depth the causes of the poorer academic results outside phone usage.

Previous studies have claimed that overuse of smartphones can interfere with cognitive abilities, including concentration.

Irish Independent

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