These days, it is almost a shock to see someone pull a mobile phone out of their pocket that is not one of the popular smartphones we all know and love—iPhones, Androids, and Blackberries are a common sight. Issues arise when it comes down to young children possessing these smartphones and their equivalents (i.e. iPod Touches, iPads, and Android Tablets). While some adults have no problem handing over the latest in modern technology to the next generation, others are crying foul at the sight of elementary school students owning more than the standard Nokia.
The main purpose for having any sort of mobile phone is for communication. Pay phones have become as scarce as a snowflake during a Louisville winter, meaning that one must have their own means of communication while out of the home. This holds true for both adults and children, and studies have shown that two out of three parents agree their child needs to own a cell phone by the age of thirteen—or when that child begins going on outings without their parents present.
That being said, any mobile phone has the basic talk and text capabilities needed to adequately provide this sort of communication. Why so many smartphones for the youths then? According to a recent survey, 70% of parents who purchased a smartphone for a child under twelve over a standard cell phone admitted to doing so solely to prevent their child from being teased by classmates, similarly to how kids will often make fun of those not wearing name brand clothing items. They are being used more as a fashion accessory for popularity than as a communications tool for safety.
“It’s crazy,” agrees Spencer Byrnes, a 22-year-old Louisville resident who only got his first smartphone last year. “I work with kids, and for this one little girl’s 7th birthday, her parents got her an iPhone. Another kid asked me why my phone had buttons on it.”
“It angers me to see kindergarteners texting on a Blackberry,” admits Emilia Rodriguez, who did not get a smartphone until she could afford her own bill and contract until age 19. “When I was their age, I had to use Styrofoam cups strung together on a string and pretend it was a landline connection. They have absolutely no use for a smartphone.”
The abundance of smartphones amongst young children may actually be exacerbating the bullying problem found in many schools. With the rise of “cyberbulling” on popular social media websites and web forums, smartphones increase the ease of access to these sites. Theoretically, cyberbulling could become a day-or-night affair if all of those involved have access to smartphones or similar variants.
Some parents argue that smartphones are an acceptable device for elementary and middle school students because they provide children with fun games to play, such as Angry Birds and The Oregon Trail. There are also many educational games to help students with math and science concerns. This, too, has met with opposition.
“The Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP exist for a reason,” argues Mike Nicholson, father of 2 elementary-age sons who do not own smartphones. “It’s true that there are child-friendly games on smartphone networks, but there are sturdier and cheaper devices that provide plenty of both fun and educational games for all ages without the need for contracts and data plans.”
Many parents have gotten around mobile phones all-together with simpler variations like the LG Migo. The LG Migo features four buttons, each of which is pre-programmed with a phone number. This allows a child to be able to contact four pre-specified people to give parents and guardians a peace-of-mind, while also limiting texting and web use to family and emergency calls only.
In the past five years, smartphones have become commonplace, rather than just a tool for the elite. This shift in the mainstream is only naturally causing a shift in what is acceptable for our youths as well. As such, we are entering an era where parents need to understand the best need for each of their children before handing out iPhones and Androids like they are chocolate chip cookies.
A study recently conducted by the Mahatma Ghandi Memorial Medical College concluded that young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 who routinely engage in the use of Short Messaging Services (SMS) frequently develop uneasiness, anger, and sleeplessness as a result.
“The youths in the habit of texting SMS were falling prey to depression and fear,” says Dr. Sanjay Dixit, the Head of the Department at MGMMC Community Medicine. “Nearly 47 percent of females and 39 percent of males accepted that their text messaging habit hit their daily routine in some way. Around 60 percent of youths even feel that that habit is affecting their studies.”
MGMMC’s study showed that 40 percent of females and 45 percent of males do not enjoy sound sleep due to their SMS habits. Approximately 41 percent of those surveyed admit to compulsively checking their mobile phones for a reply after sending off a text message. This OCD-like anxiety has been labeled as “Textaphrenia” by psychiatrists and is becoming a growing concern in our society of increasing communication speeds and accessibility.
“I have this weird fear when people don’t message or text me back,” says 19-year-old Tim Armstrong of Louisville. “I worry that I accidentally said something really stupid or weird on accident while I wasn’t even thinking about it.” Armstrong would not go as far as to say that he was a Textaphrenic, but increasing numbers of youths report similar phenomena when it comes to not only texting but also to receiving comments, messages, and replies on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
The study shows that 55 percent of youths become upset if there is no response to their text messages, and 32 percent feel dejected and presume that no one wished to communicate with them. Approximately 93 percent of SMS users become anxious if they do not receive a response within a reasonable period of time, the appropriate period of time depending on both the receiver and the sender’s normal response speed.
Related to Textaphrenia is Textiety, which is an anxious feeling caused by not sending or receiving text messages. Textiety is observed by most on a daily basis when youths are not allowed to use their mobile phones for 30 minutes or more and will try to sneak out a quick text message, becoming noticeably antsy when unable to do so.
Psychologists stress that Textaphrenia are both serious mental and physical disorders with symptoms that include anxiety, insecurity, depression, low self-esteem, and “repetitive thumb syndrome”.
Australian researcher Jennie Carroll of Melbourne’s RMIT University has also commented on the situation. “With Textaphrenia and Textiety, there’s the feeling that ‘No one loves me; no one’s contacted me. Binge texting can either reflect the delusion that you have more friends than you actually do or can be a cry for help.” One teenager surveyed in Carroll’s own survey was averaging 444 SMS messages per day.
Data released by Boost Mobile revealed that SMS use has increased by 89% since 2009. Mobile phone use has been such a large presence in the presence of today’s youths that many now feel anxious when their phones are not physically in their hands. An increasing number of youths and even adults find texting easier and more economical than making phone calls, leading to the rise in SMS.
The immediate physical effect of Textaphrenia is a condition known as “repetitive thumb syndrome”. Similar to carpal tunnel syndrome in those who frequently type on a computer or play video games, repetitive thumb syndrome occurs to those who frequently send SMS, especially on phones without a touch screen. The repetitive motion needed to strike the buttons causes the lubricating fluid between the tendons, shoulders, and wrists to dry out.
Some people believe that Textaphrenia is a made-up condition. “Did anyone know that cocaine or marijuana were addictive until people started getting addicted to them?” Carroll counters. “Similarly, Textaphrenia is in the initial stages now. The sooner we start quitting this addiction, the better.”