Wednesday 21 March 2018

Talk is cheap for teens without tech

Teens without smartphones actually still exist. Arlene Harris talks to children and parents about what it means not to be mobile in 2017

A breath of fresh air: Aogan Lynch and his daughter Síona. She has only just received her first smartphone
A breath of fresh air: Aogan Lynch and his daughter Síona. She has only just received her first smartphone
Constant contact: Teens are glued to their screens at every opportunity

Arlene Harris

Teenagers love to talk - sometimes for hours and often, according to their parents, about nothing. But while many of the past generation will remember being told off for hogging the landline, with the advent of smartphones, today's youngsters have the freedom to communicate with their friends all day and all night should they so wish - or more importantly, should they be allowed by their parents.

Recent research (from Common Sense Media) has revealed that over 50pc of young adults feel they have an addiction to their phone, with many saying they would go without food (or even lose a finger in some cases) rather than give up access to their device.

In Britain, children as young as 13 have been receiving treatment in rehab to help diminish their dependency on technology.

So while it is true that many adults are also attached to their phones, the importance it plays in teenage lives is concerning parents.

This is one of the reasons why Margaret Ryan has refused to buy a smartphone for her 14-year-old daughter, Sarah.

Having being given a 'regular mobile phone' when she started secondary school, the Limerick teenager is the only person in her class and indeed her social circle, who does not have constant access to social media and the internet.

Despite the obvious peer pressure, her mother remains steadfast in her refusal.

"I cannot stand the fact that teenagers are so obsessed with their phones," says Margaret, who has four children.

"I gave Sarah a phone when she turned 13 so she could contact people and communicate with her friends via text but I do not see the point of her having a so-called 'smartphone' which to my minds turns people into the opposite.

"Of course she isn't happy about it. She feels she is missing out on communication with her friends, but she is allowed time on the computer every evening so can catch up with everyone then. The fact that teenagers (particularly girls) are glued to phone screens every waking hour, is detrimental to both their mental and physical health."

Her daughter does not agree and is saving up for a phone of her own because she wants to be the 'same' as her friends.

"It really bugs me that I don't have a proper phone and I am way too embarrassed to even use the one I have in public - it's so old-fashioned," she says. "So I just don't have any phone about when I am with my friends as I would hate to be laughed at. I know no one would be really mean about it, but in this day and age it is really weird not to have a smartphone - even the most basic one would be fine. The fact that I can't reply to any Facebook messages until the evening is crazy. The whole fun of it is the fact that we can communicate in real time, but by the time I get to answer, the whole conversation is over," she says.

"As soon as I have saved up enough money, I will definitely be getting my own phone. I know my mum doesn't like it, but she grew up in a time when no-one even had a mobile, let alone a smartphone so she doesn't understand what it is like for me."

Síona Lynch knows only too well what it feels like to be the only person without a smartphone. Up until a few days ago, when she got her first device, she felt left out of the loop when her friends were communicating via social media - as she would only be able to catch up when she met them in person.

"I finally got my phone last week," says the 13-year-old Dublin girl. "It used to be so frustrating because my friends use theirs to chat to each other online and I would always be the last to know what was going on.

"I am so delighted to finally have one and can't wait to start downloading games and apps and most importantly, keeping up with my friends - who are also really pleased for me."

Dad, Aogan, says he and his wife Valerie were reluctant to sign their eldest daughter up to a phone contract, for various reasons.

"The first reason I was holding off as much as possible was that Síona had always been a voracious reader and I knew that would stop once she had the distraction of a phone, because that is exactly what happened to me," he says. "I also didn't like the idea of her having access to everything which is available online. Lastly there is the issue of cost - Valerie and I already have phone contracts and the bill for broadband so another €30 a month is a bill we could do without.

"But we had to give in eventually - she has been very good about it because although we knew she really wanted one, she didn't plague us for it all the time. And it is great to see how happy she has been since it arrived.

"In this day and age everyone really has to have a smartphone but I guess it's a case of 'monkey see, monkey do' - so we as parents need to lead by example and not be glued to them all the time."

Tomorrow - the families who actively encourage their children to use technology from a young age

How the costs can add up

Constant contact: Teens are glued to their screens at every opportunity

• The average cost of a monthly mobile-phone bill for teenagers in Ireland is between €15 and €25 per month

• Most include packages which allow free texts and calls to numbers on the same network - along with (sometimes limited) internet access

• A basic smartphone can cost from €20 per month for a two-year contract or from €120 per month for 'pay-as-you-go'.

• Research from the Carphone Warehouse (2016) revealed that Samsung is the most popular phone for users under 25 - four out of 10 own this brand

• According to the 2016 Mobile Consumer Survey from Deloitte, almost 90pc of Irish consumers own or have access to a smartphone, compared with laptops (80pc) and tablets (60pc)

• Almost 9 in 10 of 18 to 24-year-olds use their devices 'always' or 'very often' when using public transport, meeting friends, shopping or watching television. A quarter use their phones when eating at home or at a restaurant

Irish Independent

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