The majority of children have one - but are mobile phones a necessity, an addiction, or just a bit of fun?
More than one million text messages are sent every day and many people see them as one of the best ways of communicating. But what happens when a mobile phone becomes more than just another piece of technology – and actually blights the lives of those who own them?
Just a few years ago, we all seemed to manage pretty well without a mobile phone. But now, every child, adult and pensioner seems to have one attached to their ear – or are frantically tapping away writing texts. Over 70% of mobile users now use their handsets for text messaging – no doubt prompted by a few lessons from the younger generation. As many as one in four children aged seven to 10 have a mobile phone – double the levels of 2001.
A study by the Centre for Science Education at Sheffield Hallam University found that text messages were sent and received by 90% of children with mobiles – with 16% sending 10 or more a day. There’s no doubt mobiles can give us the benefits of immediate communication – it can help juggle family schedules and provide a great reassurance when, for example, a child is late home. But what happens when mobile phones lose their place as a thing of convenience, and become something that can even prompt criminal activity among the children who rely on them so much?
In extreme cases, some youngsters have been known to steal money from their parents to “feed their habit”, while others have become reclusive from their families and schoolwork has suffered. Some experts believe “addiction” may be too strong a word for mobile phone usage by children, but they recognise the worrying signs of “dependency”. They say phones could be described as comfort blankets. Getting a phone call or text message implies an importance. It boosts self-esteem and self-worth.
But there is huge peer pressure to have a mobile phone with the latest technology and design. And the stress of wanting an equal flow of contact can be soul-destroying if it doesn’t materialise.
No one is against mobile phones– there are some very good reasons for children to have them. But there are obviously some bad points to take into consideration, too.
Such as the psychological problems that can arise when children become too dependent on mobiles.
Equally,text messaging is tragic in many ways. It can get to the stage when a child’s friends seem more important than their family. They need that constant contact – it’s almost an addiction. Before the days of mobiles, children had to rely on just using the house phone. But that was often expensive and many children were limited on how long they could use it. But texting and calling on mobiles means they can do it whenever they want – the boundaries are no longer there.
The addiction can come from the fact that getting messages can make you feel important. You can be addicted to that feeling, that people want to be in touch with you.
Similarly, self-esteem issues can come about when messages aren’t returned. Here is an example to illustrate the fact that a child’s reliance on their mobile might spiral out of control.
One father of a 16-year-old said the situation got out of hand in their house. He said: “We give our daughter Emma £20 pocket money with extra for her school dinners. We learned recently that all this money is being spent on text messaging her friends.
“She hasn’t had a meal in school for the past three months and, worst of all, considers no other activity or hobby worthy of her pocket money.” Others say their child’s schoolwork has suffered, as they are often awake until the early hours texting or speaking on the phone to their friends.
Some may even turn to crime to “feed” their addiction. One parent told Childalert: “I discovered our daughter had been using my credit card without my permission to buy more mobile airtime for her phone.” Clare adds: “It is vital that parents set boundaries over the use of mobile phones right from the outset. They shouldn’t give them to children when they are too young or using them will just become the norm.
“We shouldn’t forget that mobiles can be great for safety and communication, but we shouldn’t lose parental discipline about using them.”
If you are thinking of buying your child a mobile phone, try to set the rules from the start:
•When can they use it?
•How will it be funded and what will be the frequency of top ups?
•Where should it be kept for both usage and safety reasons?
•Who should they give their number to?
•Only reply to people they know.
•The privilege of ownership and the reasons not to abuse it.
•What will happen if they don’t abide by the rules?
•Maintain parental “chat”, who called, getting to understand how to use it, and so on.
•Remember, try not to accuse, but instead talk from your perspective about why you are concerned.
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