Monday, February 12, 2007

Cellphones and Children.

Cellphones are wonderful technological devices. They allow instant communication via text messages and phone calls. And the newfangled ones can even take photos and videos. They are indeed a device that could be said to have revolutionised the modern world.

But they are also very dangerous, especially in the hands of children.

In some ways it is good that teenagers have cellphones. Parents can see their kids go off to parties in the knowledge that the simple 30 second process of their son or daughter writing a text can let the parents know that she or he is ready to be picked up. In other words communication between parent and child of where exactly both are, how much longer they will be etc is much improved.

That's the main advantage, but it's pretty impossible to force a child to only use a cellphone to talk to their mum or dad, and that's where the potential dangers lie.

Often a sixteen or seventeen year old child can be bored and decide to send a random text to a random number. Don't believe me? I have anecdotal evidence that it happens all the time. My mate in Auckland received a series of texts from what turned out to be a bored and pregnant 16 year old girl. In the weekends with what was then free vodaphone to vodaphone texting he would receive a barrage of texts saying "what are u up 2?", "why won't u talk 2 me", "I'm watching NZ idol", "do u hav a bf?" etc. He responded to a few out of vague curiosity but soon became annoyed with the incessant texts, giving her the cellphone number of two others on vodaphone, who then became the recipient of these frequent messages. I myself once had a text from someone professing to be a bored 17yr old girl in the South Island.

My point here is that random texts can go to anyone: a grandmother walking her dog, a paedophile, just anyone. People with sinister motives could easily take advantage of the situation. Starting off just sounding friendly, to meeting up, to being kidnapped. And these youngsters are probably too naive to even think of the consequences of sending off a bored random text. And it's not just 16 or 17 year olds who might be doing this - it's whoever has a cellphone. And that may mean anyone over the age of about six.

Which leads me to my next point. It is patently ridiculous that children as young as 6,7,8,9,10,11,12 have cellphones. Why would they need one? It's taking away the control of parents, it's giving them a tool that can easily be manipulated to others sinister uses. And it has brought about the advent of cellphone bullying at school. And these bullies can even hide behind anonymous numbers. It's easier for parents to monitor their kids on the Internet than it is on a cellphone.

Not to mention the harmful biological effects of cellphone use. A harm that is apparently a lot worse to children. Starting off with a cellphone in your pocket at the age of 8, and continuing through the rest of your life, can lead to problems such as infertility. The penetration of radio waves into the brain can lead to poorer concentration and memory. There are a ridiculous number of diseases or syndromes that children are at higher risk of developing simply because they want to use a cellphone. Most often choosing to do so for the sad fact that it is a fashion accessory, they think they look cool with a cellphone in their hands.
Finally, what about the costs accrued by the children or their family? First of all there's the cellphone itself, and whilst some have the basic no flaws kind there are many 12 year olds out there with swanky expensive ones. A lot better than my simple device. And they don't even need a phone let alone one that can make videos! Then there's the text messages, the phone calls etc. Some children spend crazy sums of money on using their phone. No wonder they end up getting part-time jobs too early in life. Missing out on the simple pleasures of childhood in order to finance the cellphones they don't need, and which are harming them. I once watched on TV about how this youngster aged about 16, who should have known better, racked up a bill into the thousands of dollars for one month's usage. The parents had been stupid enough to think that particular plan would be the cheapest - instead they were looking at a huge bill. The kid had downloaded vast quantities from the internet and the parents had the temerity to suggest it was the fault of the phone company for not informing them of every single charge every step of the way. I'm sorry parents but it's your own fault. You should never have let the kid use the phone to go on the internet! Even now, I only spend between $10 and $15 on my phone per month. $10 on 500 texts which I normally just avoid going over. And perhaps a couple of dollars on checking voicemail or making a quick urgent call. Many of these children are spending a lot more than me.

Cellphones with young children is another sad indictment on society in our self obsessed world. Parents need to realise the many societal, biological and financial harms they inflict, and take a good hard look at not allowing a child to have a cellphone until a certain suitable age (14?). And also looking to minimise their use.
I didn't have a cellphone until I was 2nd or 3rd year uni which was significantly later than most, and now I use it all the time, but they were never as prevalent among youngsters as they are today. It would be nice if children reclaimed their childhood and they or their parents said no to cellphones until at least 16, with the possible exception of urgent communication.

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