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Teens, phones and addiction

Nerves jangle when youths have to go cell-less  PLAY AUDIO

Nov 27,2005
“I have seen students,” a high school teacher here sighed, “who made nonsensical excuses to leave school early on days when they forgot to carry their cell phones to school.” A middle-school student in Seoul carries two cell phones, and a backup battery for each. It’s not that she’s a junior tycoon, she says, but just that it’s important to her to always be in touch. “Once I left both of them at home, and was nervous the whole day because I couldn’t answer calls and text messages immediately,” she said. Exceptional cases? Perhaps, but a recent study said that nearly half of Korea’s teenagers are addicted to their mobile phones. A survey of 1,100 youths aged 14 to 19, conducted in Seoul by the Korea Agency for Digital Opportunity and Promotion, an arm of the Ministry of Communication, said that four out of 10 students send and receive text messages during class and that the same proportion sends more than 1,000 text messages a month. A third reported jangled nerves when they forget to carry their cell phone. A fifth even said they kept their cell phone next to them while bathing. The little instruments are not just a way to communicate, it seems; they are a part of their owner’s psyche. “Many teenagers check out their cell phones too frequently,” said Choi Byeong-mok of Far East University in North Chungcheong province, who led the research team in conducting and analyzing the survey. “Some have their eyes glued to the phone screen while they are walking. One student said she sends as many as 400 text messages a day, and the average sent by all the poll respondents was 45,” he added. Every year, the proportion of teens that carry phones is increasing. According to KTF, a mobile phone carrier, subscribers younger than 20 now number 2.2 million, almost a fifth of its customers. That number is up from 1.4 million five years ago. With makers packing more and more functions into the ubiquitous instruments, the number of ways teens can get hooked on their phones is increasing. Kan Sim-young of Soongeui Women’s College says those problems can include not only constant texting but also such things as downloaded pornography or digital games. The digital agency’s survey said that teens use mobile phones most frequently for text messages, 35 percent of all usage. Why send messages? Forty percent said they did so when they were bored and about a quarter said they just wanted to keep up with what their friends were doing. Four in ten of the respondents said texting was more convenient than calling, and some other responses, according to Mr. Choi, the study’s chief researcher, suggested some deeper explanations. Take the case of a second-year middle school student in Gyeonggi province who said he sends about a hundred text messages to his girlfriend every day. Many of the messages were superficially cryptic: “One sheep,” followed by “two sheep,” then “three sheep” and so on. What’s going on here? A lullaby, Mr. Choi said. “Some adults may think text messages between teens are shallow and meaningless, but they are actually a significant means of conveying affection. Other scholars add that teenagers are under intense pressure here to perform well in examinations and get into good schools, leaving them little time for leisure. An occasional burst of text messages leads to an obsession. And those teens are not the equivalent of a hunt-and-peck typist. Some of them can reach texting speeds of 100 characters per minute. Among teen cell phone addicts, doctors at the Seoul National University Bundang Hospital said, about 10 percent suffer shoulder pain from that variant of repetitive motion injuries. Another danger from frequent use of mobile phones is an increased exposure to sexually explicit material via wireless Internet services. An official at a cell phone service company said, “Teenagers can be fully exposed to mobile content for adults when their parents give them the phones registered under a parent’s name.” He said that the law bans access to adult Internet content on phones only to persons under 20. In an extreme case, a 15-year-old middle school student in Seoul recently ran away from home after his parents confiscated his cell phone when his phone bill for the month came in at 530,000 won ($512), mostly for mobile Internet service. Another danger is increased exposure to bullying. Some students take advantage of text messaging to harass acquaintances. One of five teens in the survey admitted to having sent threatening messages, and one in ten said they had been bullied through their phones. Teenagers are also hooked on games played on their phones. A 16-year-old high school student said he played games while commuting to school but then found that he couldn’t stop doing so in class as well. A market researcher, Marketing Insight, said 15 percent of mobile phone subscribers under 20 play games on their handsets every day. “Mobile phone addiction is more serious than Internet and game addiction because cell phones are carried all the time. There are no time and place restrictions,” said Dr. Chung Chan-ho, who runs a psychiatric hospital that specializes in juvenile disorders. Other experts said a strong addiction to mobile phones can lead to depression, anxiety, sleep disorders and an inability to adapt to new situations. Three of ten teens in the survey reported, to greater or lesser degrees, some auditory hallucinations ― hearing phones ring when they are not, mistaking ringing on other people’s cell phones for their own and the like. “Even though I set my cell phone to vibrate when calls come in, I sometimes hear my phone ringing and check out the screen,” one high school girl said. Some other concerns about cell phones are perhaps not as much of an issue as would be the case for adults, who tend to use phones the old-fashioned way ― for talking. Studies have not demonstrated a practical danger to cell phone users because of the radio signals emitted by handsets, although concerns remain. The British government recommends that youths of 16 years or younger not carry cell phones routinely because of those radiation concerns. But texting keeps the handset much further away from the head than does calling. In Korea, academic studies on cell phone addiction are in their infancy, and the government has only recently begun to respond to psychological or common courtesy issues. The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, for example, has recently distributed leaflets describing mobile phone etiquette to students in elementary, middle and high school. The education office in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang province is urging students at 80 elementary and middle schools in the city not to use their phones inside the school building. “At the initial stage, students were opposed to the idea, but now the new principle is accepted at most schools. Parents also welcomed the move because their children no longer asked them to buy the latest models.” About 200 students from six high schools in South Gyeongsang province are lobbying their peers not to bring cell phones to school on the 15th of every month. The head of the movement, Kim So-hee, said, “Now that I am less obsessed with mobile phones, I can spend more time talking with my mother face-to-face and writing letters by hand to my friends instead of sending messages.” “Parents should take the lead in helping students addicted to cell phones,” said Yoon Su-jeong of St. Mary’s Hospital at Catholic University. She suggested that parents give their children the checklist above to examine themselves for signs of cell phone addiction. Do you own your cell phone or does it control you? A test for teens Evaluate yourself on a scale of 1-5 for each of the following statements, where 1 does not apply to you at all and 5 describes you perfectly. 1. You get agitated when your cell phone is not in sight.________________________________________( ) 2. You get nervous when the phone's battery is almost exhausted._______________________________( ) 3. You have tried to cut back on your cell phone use.___________________________________________( ) 4. You cannot turn off your cell phone when you are in a meeting or a lecture._____________________( ) 5. You want your cell phone to stand out in design and ornaments.______________________________( ) 6. You have memorized almost no phone numbers, depending on the list stored in your phone._____( ) 7. You make phone calls even when there is no real need to do so.______________________________( ) 8. You frequently check your cell phone to see if you have missed any calls or messages._________( ) 9. You tend to use your cell phone even when there is a fixed-line phone at home._________________( ) 10. You immediately return messages during meetings an classes._______________________________( ) Total______________________________________________________________________________________( ) Source: Yoon Su-jeong, St. Mary's Hospital at Catholic University *Over 30: addicted 20~29: caution needed Below 20: healthy by Lee Weon-ho, Seo Ji-eun


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