Cellphones, Texting and Cell Phone Distractions
Today’s cell phones are more than just phones, they are high-tech gadgets that also serve as a mini-computers. Today’s cell phones allow users to surf the web, conduct text chats with others, take photos, record video, download and listen to music, play games, update blogs, send instant text messages, keep a calendar and to-do list, and much more. For children and teenagers, they allow for anytime, anywhere communication especially with friends. With cell phones, children are always only a few buttons away, highly connected and instantaneously available. Parents who allow their children to have cell phones feel secure that they too can contact their sons and daughters at a moment’s notice.
Many parents also feel relieved to know that their children have easy access to them and to emergency personnel if needed. For instance, a cell phone is especially convenient for kids who participate in after school activities such as sports or clubs. If the activity ends early or late, or has been canceled, kids can call their parents to let them know about the changes. Kids can also call their parents to ask for permission should last-minute changes in their plans occur. Some parents even use their children’s cell phones as tracking devices that allow them to identify their child’s location at any time which would certainly come in handy in the event of a kidnapping or lost child.1 From a parent’s perspective, these are all good reasons to supply our children with cell phones. However, the convenience that cell phones offer us must be judged against the hazards they pose to all people and especially the cell phone user. The remainder of this chapter reviews the downsides of child cell phone use and provides recommendations for parents to consider.
When a voice conversation is overkill, too embarrassing (such as in, I don’t want to say “Hi Mom” in front of my friends), or just not convenient, text messaging (also known as texting) really comes in handy. Texting is the “killer app2” these days which has eclipsed e-mail communication now considered among kids as “old school.” Even many parents admit that it is one of the best ways to check up on their kids, remind them of important events, or quickly communicate a change in plans. So what do parents, educators, and other care takers need to know about the potential risks with text messages?
First, texting is a primary method for communicating harassment or intimidation as part of an overall cyberbullying strategy. For instance, some estimate that more than one in every eight children has been bullied by e-mail or text message. 3 Some do it directly although others are more creative. For example, a child will borrow another child’s cell phone (this child is actually the target of cyberbullying) and then use that phone to cyberbully a third student. The receiver of the text messages may then retaliate against the student who owns the cell phone, just as the first student planned. Another way that devious kids cyberbully by texting is that they will borrow their victims phone to text their own cell phone. The text message comes with the targets phone number which is now used to launch a relentless barrage of text message attacks from one or more other students.
Another problem is that texting may give predators a secret path to kids. The same cell phones that parents buy as safety devices for their children are the gadgets that pedophiles and predators use to “prep” kids for sexual encounters. One television station reported, for example, on a second-grader who was solicited by a 31 year old man on his cell phone. The child did respond to the text messages and an exchange of messages followed, including the man’s request of the child’s name, age and address. 4 In another case, a 26-year-old P.E. teacher admitted to having sex with a 14-year-old student in the school’s parking lot. Detectives from the town’s police department said they found nude pictures of the teacher on the teen’s cell phone along with text messages. 5 Some still remember when Florida law enforcement officials investigated former Republican Rep. Mark Foley, whose e-mails and instant messages to teenage former congressional pages shocked the country. These are just a few examples of many ... it does happen.
Have you heard of text-related injuries? The problem stems from logging in lots of miles on those tiny cell phone keypads. Literally, hundreds of billions of text messges are sent from around the world every year. One girl, Morgan Pozgar, entered a text messaging competition and said that she trained by sending on average 8,000 text messages a month to her friends – an astonishing rate of one every five and a half minutes. 6 You see, to text, people tend to hold cell phones in their fingers and press the tiny keys with their thumbs. This reverses the computer keyboard position, where clumsy thumbs are relegated to the space bar and let fingers do the typing. This can lead to Repetitive Stress Syndrom (RSI), the symptoms of which include pain and immobility in the joints, nerves and muscles from the fingers to the neck. RSI is caused by repetitive movements and fatigue resulting from natural stresses and strains on the body. 7
Although controversial, yet another possible risk of text messaging is how it may contribute to increasingly poor spelling and writing skills in youth. Because texting uses intentionally misspelled words, nonstandard abbreviations, letter substitutions, and little or no punctuation, some educators believe that it encourages poor literacy and a blunt, choppy style at odds with academic rigor. Yet, others say that texting is simply a new form of literacy. This all remains to be seen. 8