Cellphone addiction rife among teenagers

2016-05-03 09:39

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Pietermaritzburg - Cellphones are the new cigarette.

A study by Unisa professor Deon Tustin has shown that cellphone addiction is rife among teenagers resulting in stunted emotional and educational growth and withdrawal symptoms similar to those experienced in substance abuse if the phone is taken away.

Speaking to The Witness, Tustin said the study, through the Youth Research Unit (YRU) of the Bureau of Market Research, started in 2008 looking at the impact of media in children. However, the focus changed in late 2014 and early 2015 as they received feedback from schools, parents, pupils and the Education Department.

“We decided to look at three aspects in the study: dependency on cellphones, texting and the Internet,” he said.

“The research was conducted within 11 schools in Gauteng with surveys received from 1 648 high school pupils.

“The results found that cellphones have a negative impact on the teenager’s emotional state, their performance in school and their interpersonal relations.”

Tustin said the results showed that out of the high schoolers surveyed:

•80% said they were highly dependent on their cellphones;

•70% said they checked their phone as soon as they woke up;

•60% said they could not live without their cellphones;

•55% said they used their cellphones in the bathroom and during meals (this increases the potential transfer of bacteria and can pose a health risk);

•78,5% felt nervous or anxious when they could not find their phones;

•20% said they had stolen money for airtime or data; and

•10% said they have used their cellphones to send nude images of themselves.

He said of the 1 684 high school pupils, 47,6% displayed cellphone addiction behaviour. The results of the study also showed higher prevalence rates of cellphone addiction among females, higher school grade and older pupils. Tustin said just less than half (46,5%) of pupils spend more than five hours per day on their cellphones.

“We see pupils procrastinating when it is time to do their homework and having difficulty falling asleep because they are up, using their cellphones too late.

“Pupils are exposed to pornography and we have heard of incidents where pupils are taking nude pictures or videos and telling their peers they have “to pay to see”.

He said the reason for the study was that clear signs of the adverse effects of cellphone addiction had been noted from international medical, psychiatric and psychology research conducted in, among others, the UK, America, India, China, Sweden, Japan, Korea, Spain, Australia and Italy.

He said the study would investigate the mobile habits and dependence of young South Africans.

The study itself found evidence of high school pupils being highly immersed in their cellphones.

The study revealed clear signs of dependence and psychological symptoms of cellphone overuse as well as abnormal cellphone behaviour.

“This underscores that the overuse of cellphones can potentially reinforce behavioural dysfunction [such as social avoidance] and could cause pathological dependency, fear and anxiety as a result of not being able to use smartphones.” according to Tustin’s study.

The study also included research from other studies such as that conducted among 18- to 25-year-olds in 2007 by the University of Granada.

The study found that teenagers who use cellphones for many hours a day may develop psychological disorders such as anxiety, irritability, sleep disorders or sleeplessness, and even shivering and digestive problems.

The study also found that mobile addicts tend to neglect important activities and most mobile addicts are people with low self-esteem.

“Despite these negative repercussions, the study findings show clear evidence that cellphones assist in building the self-image and esteem of many learners who are also showcasing functional cellphone habits that support their own well-being [that is, switching off cellphones to study and sleep],” said Tustin’s study.

“The study also showcased that learners, through their engagement with cellphones, are developing key multi-tasking skills essential for their future development.” • chelsea.pieterse@witness.co.za


• Banning cell phones is not an option.

• Put rules in place that determine when a cellphone can be used or when it should not be used.

• Set time limits on the use of cellphones when at home, school and at friends’ homes.

• Ensure that airtime budgets are adhered to.

• Keep records of your children’s cellphone expenses and usage in terms of time.

• Encourage your child to leave his/her phone at home when going on a family outing.

• Make sure that children stay in touch with the real world.

• Ensure that children still have face-to-face contact with their friends.

• Inform children of the dangers of chatrooms and Internet surfing.

• Consider putting a content control bar in place so your child cannot access inappropriate material.

• Let your child know that they are not to answer calls from a number they don’t know.

• Make your child aware of the risk of giving their personal details over the cellphone, especially their photographs, to someone they don’t know.

• Find a new hobby as a family — one which forces all family members to take part.

• Disable certain features and chat applications on your child’s phone if necessary.

• Don’t break your child’s trust by reading their SMSes without asking them.

• If there is a serious problem, consult a psychologist or therapist who specialises in addiction and/or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).


• Regularly track/monitor cellphone usage.

• Keep track of the time spent talking and messaging.

• Take note of how much time is spent on device in a day and start thinking about how to cut down on usage.

• Keep your cellphone away when carrying out one-on-one conversations — this is essential for retaining people’s respect.

• Turn off cellphones at night as it is not necessary to use it while sleeping.

• Get plenty of exercise and leave your handset at home.

• Look at how much money is spent each month on using your phone and be honest about whether or not the expense is justified.

• Ensure that airtime budgets are adhered to.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  teenagers  |  cellphone

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