Research examines association between early mobile phone ownership and children’s academic outcomes

Children who owned a mobile phone at age 9 performed less well in tests at age 13, according to new ESRI research funded by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and the Commission on Communications Regulation (ComReg).

The research uses data from 8,500 children in the Growing Up in Ireland study to examine the academic performance of children who owned a mobile phone at an earlier age. It finds that children who owned a mobile phone at age 9 scored four per cent less on average in standardised reading and maths tests at age 13.

The research finds that 40 per cent of children owned a mobile phone by the age of 9. Children attending more socially disadvantaged schools are more likely to have mobile phones. Children with parents who have higher incomes and higher levels of education are less likely to own their own mobile phones at age 9. 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 socioeconomic class.

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. 

Commenting on the publication of the research, Selina McCoy, Associate Research Professor at the ESRI commented, “This is the first time the ESRI has looked at the impact of mobile phone ownership on children’s academic development. 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.”