Monday, August 16, 2010

Cell phones: friend or foe?

The relatively new surge and dependence on mobile phones in present-day life is often seen as excessive, unnecessary and harmful. There is much talk about the health hazards of mobile phones, including an extreme reliance and obsession among youth—especially when it comes to preteens and teenagers.

The first mobile phone
Over the past 10 years, much has changed regarding the age at which children are getting their first mobile phone. When Naomi Priestley's seventh grade class at the International Community School (ICS) was asked how many had mobile phones, it was not much of a surprise that all the students, without exception, raised their hands.

Tarek Saadi, Ericsson’s Head of Market for the North Middle East sums up the current situation by saying, “The trend has changed during the last few years from more adults using mobile phones to more teens using them.” He explains that, in the past decade, mobile usage among teens has increased by 100 fold. The picture is the same globally.

Hana Maraqa, a mother of five boys aged from nine to 26 years, explains how things are changing. "I bought Nael (26) and Mohammed (24), my two eldest boys their first mobile phones after the secondary certificate exam, ‘tawjihi’." However, her third son, Ya'sani (21), asked for a mobile phone in 10th grade, but she thought it was too early, so he went and bought it himself. The same thing happened again with her fourth son, Yazan (15), who bought himself one when he was in the eighth grade. “Now, of course, my fifth son, Abdullah (9), wants a mobile phone, but he does not have one," she remarks.

Ghalia Shamayleh (18), a university student, tells us how she received her first cell phone when she was 14. Her mama bought her a mobile phone as a means of keeping in touch. Christine Chang (15), a student at the ICS, got her brother's hand-me-down phone at 13, also for her family to know her whereabouts. At the young ages of 14 and 13, not all of Ghalia and Christine's friends had mobiles; however, now, they confirm that every single one of their friends has a mobile phone.

Parent dependence

While it may or may not be true that youngsters are dependent on their mobile phones, it seems they may not be the only ones who are. Shamayleh explains that she can manage without her mobile, but it is her mother who cannot.

“My mama gets worried if she needs to get hold of me and can’t,” she explains.
Hala Jalbout, a mama of two, has a similar viewpoint when it comes to keeping tabs on her children. She explains that she and her husband thought it was a good idea to get their children Talal (14) and Jude (10) mobile phones so that they can keep in touch at all times. "I would have never thought about getting a phone for a 10-year-old, but in this day and age, kids are going out and about,” she elaborates, “so it is just a way of staying in touch."

Mobile phones and school

Schools differ on their policies regarding mobile phones. Hala Aghabi, Head of Public Relations at the Modern Montessori School, states that the school's policy towards cell phones does not allow them. "This is because the school provides phones for the students to use in case of an emergency," she states adding that "phones have no place in the educational atmosphere". So, what happens when a student is caught with a mobile phone at school? “A teacher or principal will confiscate the phone,” she says.

Jalbout also tells us that her son's mobile phone was taken away twice this year when he took it to school. "Someone heard it in his locker ringing and both times it was taken away for three weeks," she explains. She also mentions that the school will not even release the phone to parents before the three-week period ends.

The role of the Internet

With the availability of popular social networking sites such as Facebook, some children and teens turn to their computers instead of their mobile phones when they want to chat.

"I prefer chatting with my friends online. It is faster than text messaging, more convenient because I can multi-task and costs less than calling or text messaging," notes Chang, who uses her phone for a maximum of 30 minutes a day. Similarly, Shamayleh does not spend much time on her mobile phone, but prefers keeping in touch with her friends through Skype or Facebook.

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By Laila Esmail, Yasmeen Shahzadeh & Diala Quqa

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