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Cell Phones

The use of cell phones has become a necessity and a common phenomenon among teenagers and even younger children; with the majority of adults keeping cell phones to remain accessible, the teenagers use those to communicate with peers. Conversations on cell phones and short message texting can become a distraction to teenagers allowing them not to concentrate on school, home or church, and this prompts parents to question whether teenagers should be permitted to use cell phones or not. However, there are numerous benefits in the society that are associated with allowing teenagers to own cell phones.

Previously, teenagers had remained behind adults in the ownership of cell phones. However, according to the survey data that was collected by the Pew Internet and American Life Project from 2004 (Lenhart page), the teenagers between ages 12-17 are closing the gap in cellular phone ownership. The survey indicated that 45% of teenagers owned a cell phone, and the ownership had steadily increased among the teens aged 12 to 17 to about 63% by 2006 and then to 71% in 2008. Comparatively, 77 percent of all adults owned a cell phone or other mobile gargets at a similar period in 2008. This percentage has since increased to 85%, based on the results of survey conducted in April 2009.


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Currently, more people own cell phones and it has become a part of human life. The owners of cell phones include also students of all ages, and approximately 78% of all teens presently own a cell phone. With the improvement of technology, the teenagers have become digital natives to an extent that 47% of teenagers can write text messages with their eyes closed, better than adults. This paper looks at the background information concerning the development of cell phones, the common uses of the cell phones by the teenagers, issues surrounding the ownership of cell phones by the teens, the general advantages and limitations of using cell phones by the teenagers both in school and outside school.

Background Information

Owing to the people’s desire to conveniently communicate with each other while being at home, in offices, or in a car without the connection of the popular copper wire that enslaved people, the search for a mobile form was intensified up until April 3, 1973, when Martin Cooper who was the general manager of the Motorola's Communications Systems division then, successfully managed to place a call, while moving across several streets of New York to determine the strength of the radio signals (Arraycomm). This was the fulfillment of his vision to own a personal wireless phone that gave the freedom to communicate irrespective of the location and distance. The phone was, however, big in size to the tune of 30 ounce almost to a brick size.  Cooper then started the 10-year process of developing a portable and smaller cell phone for the market, and by 1983, Motorola produced the 16-ounce DynaTAC phone for commercial service, with each item costing $3,500 to buy. Seven years later, there were a million users of cell phones that were weighing lower than 3 ounces in the United States (Arraycomm). Currently, millions of people in the world cheaply acquire cell phones as it became affordable even to the students and teenagers.

Teen’s Use of Cell Phones


A bigger percentage of teenagers use the cell phones to convey information through the short message system that passes very direct information. This is done through the phone texting, instant online chat platforms that use the social media sites like the twitter, Facebook and Google among others. This method is preferred by more youths because it’s a little cheaper than voice calling. The use of short messaging system also protects privacy and secret use by the students, since they can communicate without anyone suspecting, including neighbor, parent or teacher.

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According to Lenhart (page), the frequency of using cell phones by teens both in school and at home increases with age. Older teenagers use phones daily to talk to friends, while younger teens use mobile phones to call friends a few times per week. More than 70 % of 17-year-old teenagers owning phones are found to communicate with their friends daily on their cell, while just 28% of 12-year-olds with phones do the same. The remaining percentage of teens aged 12-14 talk to friends at least once a week.

Other Uses

Teens use cell phone for a number of other services that include: internet access, watching online movies, downloading material from the internet, live chat through social media among many others. These uses need strict monitoring by the parents to ensure that teens stay within the limits given and are responsible in the use (Zuckerman, et al page).  

Current Issues

Owning cell phones by students has both advantages and disadvantages both to them and their parents. What makes owning cell phones by students be an issue is the abuse of use that has been exhibited, where many teens become addicted or use them for illegal or immoral practices that are of great concern to the parents (Ling page).This is because no parent would prefer their child to engage in immoral and illegal activities. This, therefore, leaves the debate whether to ban the teen’s use of cell phone in school and to control its use at home open. Currently, many cell phones offer Internet access, presenting the teenagers with an opportunity to visit websites that offer immoral materials and chat rooms that are unethical for a child to access. For example, many teens as a result of peer pressure access pornographic sites that corrupt their minds and may influence them to engage in sexual promiscuity. Students also use the cell phones for cheating in exams, which ultimately brings doubt on the authenticity of their results. This use has attracted a lot of interest from the educators and the stakeholders are currently considering whether cell phones are to be banned in schools or just controlled. Presently, many countries have banned possession of cell phones in an examination and test rooms to minimize the practice.

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What Parents Can Do

To save the teens from these risks presented by the access of cell phones, parents need to discuss their children’s drives for having a cell phone. It should be made clear to the child that owning a phone should primarily be for safety, instead of being a symbol of status. They should also develop a set of regulations and responsibilities to be followed by the user during the day and at night, such as answering parents call immediately, identifying where and with whom the child is, turning the phones off at night and keeping them at a common place away from their bedrooms and even making the teens take responsibility for their own cell phone bills, which can be achieved through using prepaid service with limited minutes to talk (Ling page).The children also need to be courteous and be taught not to be a nuisance to the public, especially when talking at public places. This is because many people usually get irritated when others converse loudly on phones and occasionally use vulgar language.

Advantages of Owning a Cell Phone

1. Convenience

One of the major benefits of cell phones for teenagers is the convenience of being in a position to communicate with other people at all times from any location. This is because teens are always busy and in constant move during the day, mostly between classes, and may want to confirm a few issues concerning their classes, or to plan how to meet with their peers after school. This is very applicable and beneficial to a student who misses class and with the help of a cell phone can be easily contacted either through a call of a text message to ensure that no one lags behind. A busy school schedule can make it challenging for students to find time to communicate with others face to face, thus making cell phones a close companion that allows them to connect with each other easily. Cell phones are also useful to the parents, since these allow parents to reach their children more conveniently, either to confirm their progress or to arrange for their transportation to and from school. In addition to basic communication, the current smart phones have new features that allow teenagers to find maps, check email and even perform a quick research on the internet. The online maps can be very important in case of abduction.

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Many teens usually need to access a range of electronic devices such as music players, cell phones and hand held gaming devices. Currently, some of the new cell phones integrate a number of these features into a single device as in the case of Apple iPhone that can run games, play music and download videos from the web. It is, therefore, convenient for the users to have only one cell phone device that serves multiple purposes. At the same time, mobile phones come with in-built calculators and converters that are more useful to the students during mathematics lessons instead of carrying extra calculators. Similarly, cell phones can also be of great help to students who are slow in copying notes, who with the permission of the lecturer can be allowed to take a picture of the notes and access it later or record the lectures.

Mobile banking and payments; Mobile cell phones are used to access mobile banking services in many countries, which may comprise the ability to transfer cash payments through the use of secure short message texting.  For example, in Kenya, there is the use of M-PESA mobile banking service that allows clients of the mobile phone operators Safaricom and Airtel to maintain cash balances which are recorded on their SIM cards. Clients may deposit or withdraw cash from M-PESA or Airtel money accounts at Safaricom and Airtel money retail outlets respectively, located throughout the country, and the funds may be transferred electronically into bank accounts, from person to person and to pay bills to different companies. This technology has been of great help to students who can easily and conveniently get pocket money and school fees from their parents or guardians even much later after reporting to school. It, therefore, minimizes the number of times students can be sent back home for a school fee or any additional bills. Branchless banking has also been tried and is successful in South Africa and Philippines, where customers can access funds even far away from the branches.

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Another successful application of mobile banking technology is Zidisha, which is based in the United States and involves nonprofit micro lending platform that gives a chance to residents of developing countries staying in the US to raise small business loans from web users worldwide. Zidisha uses mobile banking for loan disbursements and repayments by transferring cash from lenders in the US to the borrowers in rural Africa with the help of internet and mobile phones.

2. Emergencies and Safety Use

Cell phones are very important devices during emergencies for both teenagers and adults. For example, in case of a car accident which is a common emergency faced by teens, parents or teachers can be alerted immediately. If a car accident arises in an isolated area, or if a teen is hurt or trapped in a vehicle, it is usually challenging to get assistance without a cell phone. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 74 percent of Americans asserted that they have used a cell phone during an emergency (Lenhart page).

In case of an emergency, access to a cell phone allows the students to timely contact the police, fire department, or ask for ambulance services immediately. Similarly, parents can contact their children in case of any family emergency. With the increase of insecurity in the world, especially the rise of terrorist threats and school shootings, a cell phone becomes a major companion for the students and serves as a lifeline between parents and their children that helps the parent to discover the location of their children in case of any delay to get home. Many phones are now furnished with GPS, which allows parents and security agencies to track children’s phones in case of abductions or if the child exhibits suspicious behavior and movements.

Tracking and privacy; mobile phones are also used to gather data about a location, majorly when the phone is turned on. The geographical location of a cell phone can be identified easily whether the phone is on use or not, using a multilateration technique that helps to compute the variances in time taken for a signal to move from the mobile phone to all the cell boosters closer to the owner of the phone. Currently, there is a new technology that can track cell phone handsets even if the phone is switched off. This helps to track people involved in a criminal activity or those holding the child at ransom in case of abduction

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The movements of a mobile phone user through the SIM card and the handset can be tracked by their service provider and, if needed, by law enforcement agencies and government. This helps to improve safety of the holder and security in general. China has suggested using this technology to track travelling patterns of Beijing city residents. Equally, UK and US law enforcement and intelligence services agencies use mobiles phones for surveillance purposes, by using a technology that activates the microphones in cell phones in remote locations to be able to follow people’s discussions taking place closer to the individual possessing the phone. Cell phones also promote privacy between students and their parents though text messages.

3. Responsibility

Owning and taking good care of a cell phone, including using it with care, teaches the teens a sense of responsibility, knowing that losing it means staying without the precious commodity for long and that explanations must be made concerning the circumstances behind the loss before the parent considers replacing it . Parents, therefore, need to set guidelines on the use of cell phone. This will make the child learn how to effectively use the mobile phone within the confines imposed. In addition, having cell phones promotes responsible health living and wellness. This is done through the programs that deliver personalized text messages geared towards assisting a person with dieting problems to remember to take medications, or encouraging them to stop smoking and to advice on healthy diet.

Socializing; cell phones are majorly used by the teenagers for social interaction, creating and maintaining friends, staying in continuous contact with one another and feeling a part of a peer group. The absence of connection, therefore, makes it is difficult for teens to be in contact with classmates to make consultations about their class work and assignments in or outside school. This helps the teens to be up to date with information and instructions given by tutors. Socialization also helps the youths to grow and learn more about others.

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Disadvantages of Using Cell phones

1. Hidden Dangers

There are several hidden risks that teens are exposed to either at school or at home as long as they access a cell phone. Currently, many cells phones offer Internet access, giving the teenagers an opportunity to visit websites that offer immoral materials and chat rooms that are unethical for a child to access. For example, many teens in result of peer pressure access pornographic sites that corrupt them and may lead them into promiscuity at their early age. This independence offers an opportunity to interconnect with people from all walks of life, with different backgrounds, including sexual predators. Some students may use mobile phones to contact criminals outside the school to indulge in illegal practices like organizing a drug deal without the parents knowing, owing to the fact that parents have no control over the phone when the child is at school. Owning a phone may also make the students become knotty and they may engage in non disciplinary activities such as secretly recording teachers’ lectures, just for a sole purpose to ridicule them later, sometimes, in result of personal dislike of the teacher.

Cost; teens may occasionally spend on their cellphones more than planned, either by voice calling, sending text or picture messages, downloading games and movies, purchasing ring tones and using the internet. The children may also be more exposed to bullying, either as perpetrators or as victims, where text messages are used to victimize others and engage in malicious gossip that are likely to interfere with the harmonious coexistence with others to an extent of being vulnerable to attacks and physical abuse by the aggrieved in a revenge mission.

Wasted time; many teenagers usually do not realize that they are wasting time by being involved in the chats and texting  rather than spending time in meaningful activities like studying and doing assignments.

2. Health Risks

There are several health risks that teens are exposed to when continuously using cell phones without any limits. The young people who are not restricted  on how to use their cell phones in voice calling or messaging always exhibit increased restlessness and more careless lifestyles, such as increased consumption of stimulating beverages to keep them awake, difficulty in falling asleep and experiencing disrupted sleep, and are more vulnerable to stress and fatigue (Hardell & Carlberg page). These risks include:

Mental health; cell phone use is very addictive to the teens. Presently, a good number of teens are addicted to their phones, to an extent that problematic use of cell phones results in low self-esteem. It has also been found that teens addicted to their cell phones are more likely to be more anxious and depressed whenever they realize that they cannot access a cell phone. The depression condition if not monitored closed can degenerate into much complicated health conditions. There is, therefore, a link between cell phones use and mental health.

Bullying; many teens also use the mobile phones to intimidate, torment and bully their peers and victims. Cyber bullying, psychological harassment using texts or instant messaging through the social sites is more often committed by girls, who spread inappropriate messages that can either be damaging gossip or truth that the victim cannot put up with. This cell phone tormenting can degenerate into depression (Lenhart page).

Eye strain and digital thumb; overuse of cell phones have the same effects on the eyes just as computer. These conditions occur especially when focusing on small cell phone screen and typing on small buttons that strain the eye and the thumb. Many teenagers that are constantly glued on to the screens most often experience weaker eyes that cannot withstand sharp light, prompting them to start using spectacles.

Bacteria; because of the close proximity to the mouth where germs can be passed from breathing, coughing and sneezing, most cell phones are crowded with bacteria. Additionally, many people use their phone everywhere, even in the bathroom and toilets, and are kept in the handbags that are not as hygienic. The teens should, therefore, be taught on how to hygienically use their phones not to contaminate themselves with bacteria.

Brain tumors and low sperm counts; some research examination on the effects of electromagnetic radiation have shown some links with the use of cell phones in close proximity to the body. On May 31, 2011, the World Health Organization established that use of mobile phone may lead to long term health risk and classified cell phone radiation as a carcinogenic hazard that may cause cancer and are possibly carcinogenic to humans (Hardell & Carlberg page). This was a change of position from what was held earlier that there was no evidence that cell phones would expose users to cancer, and was after a team of scientists reviewed studies on the safety of cell phone. The WHO report cites a study that showed an increase in the risk of developing gliomas which is a type of brain cancer by 40 percent, mostly to the category of heavy users of cell phone for an average of 30 minutes per day for 10 years (Zuckerman et al page). Currently, some countries, such as France, have issued warning to its citizens against the use of mobile phones, particularly by minors, because of the associated health risk uncertainties. According to Hardell & Carlberg (page), there is a close association between the use of cell phones with certain types of brain and salivary gland tumors. They note that usage of cell phones for a minimum of ten years nearly doubles the risk of getting brain tumor mostly on the side of the head commonly preferred by the user. Similarly, a study done by Dr. John Aitken from University of Newcastle in Australia in a 2009 showed that the damage to sperm increases as levels of cell phone radiation increase (Zuckerman et al page).  He, therefore, recommended that men, including teenage boys, who consider having children later in life, should avoid keeping cell phones in their pockets or below the waist.

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Lack of sleep; some teens use their cell phone up to late night, while others are woken up at night by incoming text messages or calls. This makes them lose memory, become tired and unable to concentrate in class throughout the day. It also leads to reduction of immune system, thus, increasing the teen’s chances of getting colds and other life threatening diseases. Equally, a small 2007 study established that exposure to cell phone radiation before going to bed leads to less sleep or poorer quality of sleep. According to Zuckerman et al (page), individuals who are exposed to 884 MHz wireless signals for at least three hours prior to going to bed took 6 more minutes to gain deep sleep and spent 8 less minutes in the deepest phase of sleep, as compared to those not exposed to the signals This could translate to sleep deprivation after several weeks and months.

Migraines and dizziness; A 2009 study also shows that long-term cell phone use increases the chances of one being diagnosed with migraine and general dizziness, mostly known as vertigo.  In this study, where a comparison between long-term cell phone users and the recent cell phone users was made, 420,095 Danish adults were examined; it was found out that those using the phones for longer were 10-20 percent more likely to be diagnosed with migraines and vertigo (Zuckerman et al page). This, therefore, means that teens overusing their cell phones are risking becoming migraine patients.

3. Disruption in School

Teens usually cause a lot of disruptions when using their phones in class mostly to send or receive text messages, play games, or listening to ringtones. This reduces the concentration of their neighbors and can lead to destruction.  For example, the students can discreetly take other students’ photos to be shared to others on social networks in a bid to belittle or torment them. One major reason that makes cell phone use by students in school an issue is the constant use of mobile phones to aid cheating on test and exams through exchanging test answers. Research has indicated that one third of teens use mobile phones to cheat in school (Lenhart page).

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The technique of using cell phones has created another high-tech cheating strategy far from the normal styles of passing handwritten notes under the desks or writing essential formulae on the palms and arms prior to a test. Presently, students have an access to cell phones which are easier to use. More than one third of teenagers who own cellphones in school admit to having saved material to refer to during exams. Unfortunately according to the survey, 75 percent of the parents are aware of the vice that their children cheat using their cell phones, while only 3 percent believe that their own children are involved (Lenhart page). This is living in self-denial and should be a wakeup call to both parents and educators to take action to investigate how children use the technology to cheat and then find a way of helping students to understand that there is no distinction between electronic cheating and the old-fashioned cheating and that the results are the same.

Surprisingly, approximately one out of four teens is of the opinion that accessing notes on a mobile phone, texting colleagues for answers and using a cell phone to search over internet for answers during a test is not cheating. Parents and educators, therefore, need to change this perception first to control the vice. Some students say that the lack of person-to-person contact in the 21st-century approach of cheating makes it appear that they are not doing something wrong. Others see texting during tests simply as helping one another, as opposed to looking at someone else's paper during an exam, which they consider cheating.

According to activation monitoring theory, use of cell phones both in school and outside school interferes with one’s ability to be attentive or alert (Smith page). Many car accidents have been caused by lack of concentration of the driver on road, while speaking on phone. Likewise, many are knocked down by cars because they are not attentive to the traffic lights while on phone. Activation monitoring theory indicates that the decrease ia attention as a result of cell-phone or text-message conditions might disrupt source monitoring processes and may lead to false recognition that results in wrong judgments (Smith page).

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In conclusion, the use of cell phones has become part of human life in the resent past, with almost everyone, including teens, owning cell phones. Many people own cell phones to maintain connectivity with other people through voice calling and text messaging. There are several advantages of having mobile phones by the teens both at school and at home. These include convenience of reaching anybody at any time to enquire about class work, for receiving fees and pocket money through mobile banking and the fact that most cell phones have in built features that would otherwise require separate devices to access, like calculator among others. Cell phones also help during emergencies and promote socialization (Ling page).

On the other hand, cell phones are used by the youths for disruption in schools. It depends on how teens use them in school – to make calls, receive text messages, play games or listen to ring tones, which lead to reduced concentration on the class work. There are also a number of health risks that teens are exposed to in result of overuse of the mobile phones alongside hidden risks. Many children also use phones to aid cheating in their exams and tests, a practice that has aroused a concern among educators and parents in a discussion whether to ban the use of cell phones in school. Parents, therefore, need to set rules governing the teen’s use of cell phones (Zuckerman et al page) to ensure that children do not give in to group pressure to use their cell phones for immoral and illegal practices.



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