Mobile phones are increasingly becoming an integral constituent of society with young people, in particular, embracing the technology that has come to be associated with a multiplicity of positive and negative consequences (Suss & Waller 2011).
Emerging trends from the developed world demonstrate that the youth have the highest levels of mobile phone ownership across all age-groups and are prolific consumers of the technology (Walsh et al 2008), and the situation is marginally different in most developing countries where markets for mobile phones have been phenomenal (Thomee et al 2011).
Responsible use of these devices has been associated with desirable outcomes, such as increased feeling of belonging, better social identification and a stronger perception of security, but addictive use is often associated with undesirable outcomes which borders on stress, peer pressure, dilution of the social fabric or mobile phone dependence (Suss & Waller 2011).
For instance, younger drivers engage more on the use of mobile phone while driving, particularly to send and receive text messages, thereby endangering their lives, and mobile phone debt, occasionally leading to bankruptcy, is increasingly becoming a big challenge for many young users globally (Walsh et al, 2008).
It is indeed true that the youth form a significant component of the general population even though it is challenging to delineate this particular group, primarily because of the fact that the phase of life between childhood and adulthood differs across geographical and sociocultural contexts, not mentioning that an individual’s maturity may not necessarily correspond the number of years lived (Campbell, 2005).
Yet, it is this group of the population that is most at risk due to usage patterns coupled with an insatiable appetite to discover more about the world, of course through the use of mobile phones and other handheld devices. An emerging strand of literature (e.g., Walker et al, 2011; Thomee et al, 2011) reports of ‘addictive’ forms of mobile use, especially among the young people, in ways that have the capacity not only to destroy relationships and careers but also weaken the social fabric that holds society together.
The purpose of the present paper is to critically evaluate the effects, both positive and negative, of increased use of mobile phones on young people, and how these effects can be mitigated to avoid negative ramifications. The paper also seeks to explain the physical and physiological effects of excessive use of mobile phones on young people. Finally, the report seeks to illuminate some important insights into the social effects of mobile phones on young people.
Challenges and Effects of Excessive Use of Mobile Phones on Young People
Mobile phones are hand-held portable devices that use analogue or digital frameworks to receive frequencies transmitted by cellular towers or base stations to connect to connect calls and other services between two gadgets (Thomee et al 2011).
The gadgets have the capacity, not only to make and receive calls but also to access other services, such as text messaging (SMS), multimedia messaging (MMS), email alerts, web access, Bluetooth and infrared compatibility and functionality, business software applications, games and photo editing (Khan 2008).
Academics and industry are of the opinion that these additional services provided by mobile telephones form fertile grounds for excessive use and misuse of the gadgets, particularly by the young people (Walker et al, 2011). For instance, smart phones, which are the ‘in-thing’ for many young people across the world, offer the real possibility of accessing all these capabilities just by a single touch of the screen, thereby providing an easy channel through which young people continually engage in overuse and misuse of these services.
While some young people use the internet-enabled mobile phones to access pornographic sites containing sexually explicit materials (Abbasi & Manawar, 2011), others use the webcams installed on their phones to capture sexual images and forward them to their friends through cyberspace (Thomee et al, 2011).
According to Walker et al (2011), “…these images then become part of a young person’s digital footprint, which may last forever and damage future career prospects and relationships” (p. 9). As noted elsewhere, pornographic sites may provide the impetus for young people to start engaging in premarital or irresponsible sex (OECD/ECMT Transport Research Centre 2006).
Physical, Psychological and Physiological Effects of Excessive Use of Mobile Phones
Mobile phone dependence has been cited in the literature as contributing to negative physical and physiological ramifications on young people (Thomee et al 2011). These authors note that there exist positive correlations between mobile phone dependence on the one hand, and stress, sleeps disturbances, and enhanced symptoms of depression on the other.
Still, another study reported in Abbasi & Manawar (2011) demonstrates a positive correlation between excessive mobile phone use and undesirable psychological and physiological behavior outcomes, such as agitation, dependence on stimulants, irresponsible lifestyle, difficulty in sleeping, sleep disruption, and stress vulnerability.
Young people are more likely than old people to feel the pressure arising from these undesirable outcomes, not only because of their weak conflict-resolution mechanisms but also because their brains are not developed fully to maturity (Walker et al 2011; Walsh et al 2011), leading to the engagement of other equally risky behaviors, such as smoking, sniffing and alcohol abuse (Thomee et al 2011).
Available literature demonstrates that browsing of phonographic material via internet-enabled hand-held devices has negative psychological ramifications on young people, particularly in terms of seeking for immediate sexual gratification and blurred thought system (Walker et al 2011; Abbasi & Manawar 2011). These predispositions, according to the authors, may eventually lead to sexual disorders, stress, sexual dysfunction and risk of facing criminal charges due to engaging in prohibited content.
There is an emerging concern about the potential hazards that electromagnetic waves emitted by mobile phones pose to the health and wellbeing of users, particularly in the development of cancerous brain tumors (Khan 2008). One particular study reported by the National Cancer Institute (2011) found that people who engage in dependent mobile phone use before celebrating their 20th birthday have more than 50 percent risk of suffering from cancer of the glial cells than those who didn’t engage in the behavior.
Additionally, as reported in this document, individuals who become over dependent on mobile phone use while still in their formative years of life have over 50 percent risk of developing benign, but often immobilizing, lumps of the auditory nerve (acoustic neuroma) than those who didn’t engage in the habit.
On the positive front, mobiles phones have been credited for assisting young people to socialize with their peers and establish virtual relationships which are oiled by the ease and availability of the communication process (Walsh et al 2010). Young people are now more than ever before able to organize and maintain a social network, and to interact effectively with their peers (Campbell 2005).
In addition, young people can now benefit from the immense knowledge and information that could be readily accessed through their internet-enabled phones (Khan 2008). Lastly, parents are able to keep track of their children (Ong 2010).
However, these benefits are often blurred by the many negative effects associated with excessive mobile phone use, such as cyber bullying and deterioration of face-to-face interpersonal relationships (Campbell 2005; Abbasi & Manawar 2011; Khan 2008).
Research demonstrates that compared to physical interpersonal socialization, cyber bullying is a more injurious orientation as it can distract an individual from facing the real social issues – both physically and psychologically (Thomee et al 2011). Additionally, excessive use of mobile phones leads to social alienation, where young people spend a lot of time talking to absent friends while ignoring those people around them (Ong 2010).
The issue of etiquette in mobile phone use is also been overlooked by many young people, leading to scenarios where users may either create distractions to other people in the communication process, or where mobile phone usage becomes an environmental risk (Khan 2008). For instance, young people are known to create distractions in banking halls, educational settings and even in home meetings by making and receiving calls in surroundings that do not warrant such use (Thomee et al 2011).
Finally, according to Kamran (2010), “…one of the major negative consequences of addictive mobile use is financial cost or really expensive mobile phone bills” (p. 27). The heavy financial burden may lead the youth to engage in petty crimes, such as stealing money from their parents to buy credit so that they can communicate with their peers.
Not only is it evident that mobile phone use has both desirable and undesirable outcomes on young people, but it has been demonstrated beyond doubt that this group of the population has an orientation to over depend on the gadgets.
To mitigate these effects, therefore, it is imperative for relevant stakeholders, including the youth, parents, mobile phone service providers and governments, to devise strategies of ensuring responsible and controlled use of the devices, particularly by young people. Such strategies are ostensibly instrumental in limiting the serious health, psychological, physiological and social challenges posed by excessive use of these gadgets.
As suggested in a report by the Center on Media and Child Health (2010), the negative effects associated with excessive mobile phone use, particularly among the youth, are bound to increase in the future. Consequently, parents and other interested stakeholders need to create awareness about the need to limit mobile phone use due to the consequences associated with excessive use of these devices (Khan 2008).
Young people also need to be educated on the responsible use of mobile phones. Lastly, school administrators need to be empowered not only to effectively monitor the use of these gadgets but also to pass critical information about the inherent dangers posed by overuse (Center on Media and Child Health 2010).
Abbasi S. & Manawar, M. 2011, ‘Multi-dimensional challenges facing digital youth and their consequences’, Cybersecurity Summit, London, June 2011, Worldwide Group.
Campbell, M. 2005, ‘The impact of the mobile phone on young people’s social life’, in Social Change in the 21st Century, Queensland University of Technology, pp.1-14.
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