“Character” and “teen cell phone” often seem to be two contradictory terms. Place them together as we have in the title and you present an apparent oxymoron.
Character is a very real issue, however, when it comes to teens and their cell phones. It is an issue that is growing rapidly, and little attempt is being made to stop it.
In an August 19, 2009 article entitled “More and More Teens on Cell Phones,” Amanda Lenhart, Senior Research Specialist, Pew Internet & American Life Project, wrote:
Teenagers have previously lagged behind adults in their ownership of cell phones, but several years of survey data collected by the Pew Internet & American Life Project show that those ages 12-17 are closing the gap in cell phone ownership… mobile phone use has climbed steadily among teens ages 12 to 17 — to 63% in fall of 2006 and to 71% in early 2008.
Cell phones serve many useful purposes to teens, whether or not they own the phones. They provide a safety net for teens when they are alone. They give teens constant access to emergency services. They keep teens in touch with their parents. They allow teenagers to document in words and pictures an event such as a fender-bender. They can even serve as alarm clocks to keep teens on time for appointments.
Many teens view having a cell phone as important for practical things such as those listed above. They exercise responsibility in the use of their phones. Many more teens, however, regard “cool cell phones” essential extensions of themselves, and have begun to show negative behaviors so extreme that they resemble addiction.
- Teenagers become moody and frustrated if they can’t check messages during class or at the family dinner table. Attentiveness, contentment, cooperation, patience, and respect for others are just a few of the character traits they fail to exercise.
- Teens panic if they forget to take their cell phones with them. “Leaving home without my phone almost feels like leaving the house naked,” said Brenna, 17, who participated in a recent panel discussion. Lacking temperance and discernment, adaptability and confidence, such teens may think themselves only as good as their cell phones.
- Research in China showed that two-thirds of teens studied were “constantly worried” when they had to turn off their phones. They did not want to miss either a voice or a text message. Such addiction takes place when we fail to exercise self-control – a vital character trait.
The exercise of respect is difficult for teens to build at best. Place a cell phone in their hands and respect goes out the window. Loutish cell phone use replaces character. Their phones ring at weddings, funerals, job interviews, movies, and concerts.
On sidewalks, in airports, elevators, banks, and restaurants, teen cell phone users rattle on and on, loudly sharing shocking and confidential information. They exercise no respect for those around them who are forced to overhear their talk. They exercise no respect for friends on the cell who have their information broadcast.
According to a national poll by market research group Synovate, about 72% of people in the U.S. agree that users’ worst cell phone habit is having loud conversations in public. Among those disrespectful cell phone users, the majority are teenagers.
Let me be clear. I think cell phones rank right up there with chocolate, but cell phones are not the issue. Teenagers’ lack of character is.
Teenagers can learn to exercise character in their use of cell phones. They can undertaking a character building program that will make them exemplary men and women of character – even in the use of their cell phones. That isn’t likely to happen without adult help, however.
It’s time for parents and other adults to get serious about character in teen cell phone use. It’s time to send our teenagers a message.
Cell phones and character are compatible!