Smartphone use can hinder children’s reading skills

Parents have big impact with overuse of computer games linked to poorer performance

Children who have smartphones and spend long periods of time playing computer games are performing relatively poorly in reading and maths, new research shows.

The findings are contained in a study of 8,000 children in 150 primary schools across Ireland which assessed students' reading and maths performance.

Overall, the study found that parents have a major impact on their children’s performance, with pupils performing better in homes where there are rules over completing homework.

Access to technology is not necessarily a negative factor. For example, children who have access to broadband and educational games perform better than those who do not.

Rather, the study’s authors say long periods of unsupervised time using the internet, watching TV or playing computer games have a negative impact on students.

About a third of children in second class had smartphones. The study found those who did not own a phone had significantly higher reading and maths scores than those who did. At sixth class, however, where more than 90 per cent have mobiles, phone ownership was not a factor on performance.

The findings are contained in a national assessment of English reading and maths, carried out by the Education Research Centre, a State body. These assessments take place every five years.

The latest study – based on 2014 data – shows a major improvement in performance at second and sixth class, compared with the last study in 2009.

It is the first time that average performance improved significantly in national assessments at primary level since the early 1980s.


This performance varies across a range of factors including socio-economic status, home atmosphere and children’s attitudes to school.

Students from two-parent households, better-off families and whose parents have higher education tend to perform significantly better.

Children who read for enjoyment and who are involved in a moderate amount of extra-curricular activities also fared well. However, one of the report's authors, Dr Lauren Kavanagh, said there were many ways in which parents from all backgrounds can successfully support their children.

Children whose parents frequently read or set aside time for their children to read for pleasure are more likely to perform better at reading.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent