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Teens Can’t Live Without Their Cell Phones

September 17, 2008 09:25 AM
by Shannon Firth
Research shows that cell phones play an integral and sometimes troublesome role in a teenager’s social life.

The Teen Cell Phone Boom

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A study from wireless trade association CTIA and Harris Interactive reveals that four in every five teenagers have a cell phone, compared with only 40 percent of teens in 2004. Seventeen-year-old Brenna, a teenager involved in a panel discussion of cell phone culture at a recent CTIA trade show said, “Leaving home without my phone almost feels like leaving the house naked,” reports CBS. Additional research from Nielsen, a company that tracks consumer usage and ratings, determined that half of all children between 8 and 12 have cell phones.

But the CTIA-Harris study barely scratches the surface of teen obsession with cell phones as communication tools, entertainment media, status symbols, and fashion accessories. According to various surveys, teens want to use their phones for a lot more than just talking; they want music, videos, and GPS applications on their cell phones, and, as CTIA Vice President John Walls explained in a video interview on BusinessWire, “They also want a device that can be shaped or folded, bent or maybe even paper thin, maybe part of their clothing.”

HeraldNet, a Washington newspaper, published an editorial examining the teen obsession with cell phones citing the findings from the CTIA and Harris survey, including one that “almost half of teens surveyed say they would ‘die’ without their mobile phones.” The writer joked, “Thank goodness slightly more than half would manage to live if such a thing were to happen. Survival of the fittest and all that.”

In 2007, CNW, a marketing and research company in Oregon, found that 32 percent of teenagers said a new phone impressed friends more than a new car, and that popularity rankings shot to 70 percent among youth if the phone happened to be an iPhone.

Although teens clamor for the latest and greatest in cell phones in the United States, cell phone capabilities in Japan and Korea easily trump American phones. These phones include photo-editing software, the capacity to download videos, and applications for watching live broadcast television. Cell phones also serve as “electronic wallets.” Patrick Bray, a GPS company representative in Japan, explains how he uses his phone to buy a pack of gum from a convenience store: “I walk up there’s a little place next to the cash register and you just lay your phone up there gently and the little bell rings when the money has been withdrawn.”

Related Topics: Cell phone risks

Just because teenagers love them doesn’t mean cell phones don’t have their problems, and even pose serious risks.

A worrying teen trend is spreading through U.S. schools, NBC reports: Connecticut, Wisconsin, Texas and Utah have confirmed problems with students sharing naked photos uploaded from phones. These photos, generally sent by a girlfriend to her boyfriend or vice versa, sometimes make their way onto the Internet and teenagers are charged with felony offenses. Sheriff’s Sgt. Mark Yehle of Wisconsin explains, “I think they just do it to impress their boyfriends. When he breaks up, he ‘vents,’ in his words, by posting them. He apparently didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. He didn’t know it was illegal.”

Cell phones have been known to cause physical injuries, as well. In May, private British information and directory assistance number 118 118 and Living Streets, a charity organization that works to make cities more accommodating to pedestrians, teamed up to produce a video clip that showed Londoners bumping into lampposts and other objects while sending text messages from their cell phones and BlackBerrys.

But cell phones are perhaps most dangerous behind the wheel. Recent experiments conducted at Carnegie Mellon’s Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging showed that using a phone draws 40 percent of a driver’s attention away from the road—even if the phone is a hands-free device.
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