Earlier smartphone acquisition negatively impacts language proficiency, but only for heavy media users. Results from a longitudinal quasi-experimental study

Gerosa, Tiziano and Gui, Marco (2023) Earlier smartphone acquisition negatively impacts language proficiency, but only for heavy media users. Results from a longitudinal quasi-experimental study. Social Science Research, 114. p. 102915. ISSN 0049089X

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Abstract

There is a growing debate about the proper age at which teens should be given permission to own a personal smartphone. While experts in different disciplines provide parents and educators with conflicting guidelines, the age of first smartphone acquisition is constantly decreasing and there is still limited evidence on the impact of anticipating the age of access on learning outcomes. Drawing on two-wave longitudinal data collected on a sample of 1672 students in 2013 (at grade 5) and 2016 (at grade 8), this study evaluates whether obtaining the first personal smartphone at 10 or 11 years old, during the transition to lower secondary school (early owning), affected their language proficiency trends compared to receiving it from the age of 12 onwards (late owning). Results indicate an overall null effect of smartphone early owning on adolescents’ language proficiency trajectories, while a negative effect is found on those who were already heavy screen media users before receiving the device.

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