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This House believes that children should be allowed to own and use mobile phones.
This House believes that children should be allowed to own and use mobile phones.
The United Nations estimates that there are currently as many as 4.1 billion active mobile phone subscriptions. Modern mobile phones can perform a wide variety of functions, such as taking and sending photographs and video, playing music and games, and surfing the internet and accessing social networks. Their main use, however, remains for voice calls and for texting short messages. As prices of both phones and calls have come down in the past ten years or so with increased competition, they have become much more affordable for young people. This has raised questions about whether children should own phones, and if they should be allowed to take them into school. Schools in different countries, and within countries, take very different views on this issue. In many European schools, especially in Scandinavia, mobile phone technologies are actively used in education and to communication with students. Other schools allow them to be carried, but say they must never be turned on in school hours. Some (for example, New York schools) ban them entirely. Proponents of children being given mobile phones argue that they keep them safe, within reach of their parents at all times and are essential for maintaining friendships and social cohesion, whilst opponents maintain that they are susceptible to abuse and do not have the best interests of the child at heart.
|Points For||Points Against|
|Mobile phones keep children safe||There are long-term health risks to mobile phone use|
|Children should be comfortable with modern technology||Mobile phones are too expensive for children|
|Mobile phones encourage the development of independence and interpersonal skills||Mobile phones are inappropriate distractions in school|
|Schools can implement programs to encourage responsible and considerate mobile phone use||Mobile phones are open to abuse|
Remember to choose a winning argument!
Mobile phones keep children safe
Mobile phones keep children safer, as it is easier for parents to stay in touch with their children and for children to contact someone in an emergency. Through calls and texts, parents can know where their child is and be reassured that he or she is safe, all the while their children know they are never more than a phone call away from help. As Leslie Sharpe argues, ‘I wanted to ensure that they had a way of contacting me in an emergency’. It is, however, true that some children carrying the most sophisticated or ‘Smart’ phones are more susceptible to being robbed, but thieves are always after something new. Phones now are both much more widespread and security coded, so the benefits to thieves are no longer as great or immediate. Traffic accidents that are the result of children being distracted by their phones while walking across roads should be blamed on bad safety education rather than on the actual phones. Ultimately, mobile phones provide parents and young people with peace of mind and children with a safety net in emergencies, whether calling parents or the emergency services.
The ostensible goal of keeping children safe is neglected if the device is at the mercy of whoever holds it. The link between parents and children that phones ostensibly provide is easily broken if, as Janet Bodnar notes, “your child doesn’t want to be reached, she can always turn off the phone and plead the ‘no service’ defence”. Not to mention the fact that children, with phones, who miss calls or fail to call their parents causing more stress and worry than others who don’t carry phones with them. Phones give parents a reason to be concerned if not used. Furthermore, any person who does not want a child to reach their parents can easily take it off them before they are able to use it. True safety is provided by maturity and good parenting and good communication not a phone line.
Children should be comfortable with modern technology
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is now a normal part of modern life, used by everyone from toddlers to pensioners. So children need to grow up making use of technology such as mobile phones if they are to be able to fully participate in contemporary society. The average age at which children get their first mobile phone is eight according to a recent study. To prevent a child from having a mobile phone at that age is to put them at a clear social disadvantage compared with their peers. Mobile phone use develops skills for the modern workplace with its need for tech-savvy employees with communication skills and the ability to work flexibly. In any case, children often have better phone manners than adults – they are less likely to shout into the phone, more likely to text discreetly, and more aware of text and phone etiquette. Such manners are the direct consequence of familiarity with the device and an understanding of appropriate use in certain contexts.
Children should not be comfortable with modern technology, merely the modern world. Mobile phones are a distraction from the real world, having a negative impact on children interacting with those around them. A survey of 1,500 parents found that ‘more than three quarters said that technology has had a negative effect on family life and a third said they ban mobile phones from the dinner table’. Furthermore, a survey of American teenagers in 2009 found that whilst 51% of respondents talk to their friends on their cell phone every day, only 29% spend time with friends in person doing activities outside of school. This probably reflects wider social changes as the outside world is perceived as risky. Constant talking, texting, and games playing take the place of proper socialising. Young people grow up without good manners, unable to relate to those around them in a normal way. Parents, anxious that their traditional role as the shoulder to lean on is being superseded by friends and access to the internet, are increasingly turning to spying on their children. The mutual distrust, fuelled by access to modern technology, is not a positive development.
 Beck, U., Risk Society Towards a New Modernity, London: Sage 1992
Mobile phones encourage the development of independence and interpersonal skills
Education is as much about the growth in character and dealing with risks as it is the accumulation of knowledge; mobile phones provide for children a means to converse with peers, develop friendships and resolve disputes, all within minutes of each other, night and day. For them, ‘getting a cell phone is a step towards independence and a status symbol among their friends’. The confidence and self-esteem derived from having a mobile phone cannot be underappreciated, as proven by the corresponding negative impact of losing one’s phone. An Independent study in 2004 found that 55 per cent of people cited ‘keeping in touch with friends or family as the main reason for being wedded to their handsets'. Furthermore, the increasing potential of smart phones facilitates the accessing of information in real-time and on the move; a determined child with a grasp of the potential of their mobile phone can illuminate themselves on matters like directions to destinations, opening times for activities and immediate weather forecasts. With such information, children can begin to reason with each other and make decisions without resort to more mature advice.
Independence is by its very nature unsupervised, therefore, the only way parents know how mobiles are being used is to be told by often shy teenagers. In some cases, this has led to sex offenders being able to ‘hide behind the anonymity’ of chat rooms and phone numbers and develop relationships with young children. This would be less of a problem if children were aware of the dangers. However a recent Taiwanese study found that though 43% of parents were worried that their kids would meet strangers online, only 10% of children were similarly concerned. The true extent of online grooming remains unknown. There are ways of encouraging independence without risking exploitation in new media environments; however, honest discussions and responsible education can ameliorate some of these risks.
Schools can implement programs to encourage responsible and considerate mobile phone use
All technological platforms have the potential to be abused or act as a negative medium, what is important is that children are taught to use their mobile phones responsibly. Schools should introduce programs and classes that teach children not only how important the devices are to their personal safety, but also how to exploit the advantages of the software. All children with sufficiently smart mobile phones should know how to find out where they are at any given time using map functions, and how to use the internet to find information on the go but to be vary of revealing their location to others and possible commercial exploitation of certain location based services. This advice should be taught alongside warnings about the limits of mobile phone technology, ensuring that the children don’t trust them blindly but use them as verification tools or means of starting enquiries. What should emerge is an environment where phones can be used as teaching tools and facilitating social cohesion rather than simply being a distraction in class.Improve this
There are long-term health risks to mobile phone use
There are possible potential long-term health risks from using mobile phones. In May 2011, the World Health Organisation classified the radiation emitted by handsets as ‘possibly carcinogenic’. It has been widely accepted that the radiofrequency electromagnetic fields emitted by mobile phones are absorbed into the body, ‘much of it by the head when the headset is held to the air’. Because children’s brains are still developing, any possible damage to them is even more worrying than for adults. It is true there is no total scientific proof about this, but it is better to play safe than take risks – the precautionary principle. Until science can prove mobile phones are completely safe for young people to use, they should not be allowed to have them. As Christopher Wild, who headed a study into the health risks of mobile use, instructed, ‘it is important to take pragmatic measures to reduce exposure such as hands-free devices or texting’. The damage, despite not being conclusive, is potentially serious enough to warrant caution and prevent children being unnecessarily exposed.
Mobile phones are medically safe for children to use – we should ignore scare stories in the media. The latest research has not proved that mobile phones damage brain cells. Ed Yong, head of health information at Cancer Research UK, has been quoted as saying ‘the risk of brain cancer is similar in people who use mobile phones compared to those who don’t, and rates of this cancer (glioma) have not gone up in recent years despite a dramatic rise in phone use during the 1980s’. Furthermore, the European Union’s public health body concluded in 2008 that ‘mobile phone use for less than ten years is not associated with cancer incidence. Regarding longer use, it was deemed difficult to make an estimate’. Even those earlier studies that suggested there might be a problem thought that people would have to use a cell phone for hours a day for there to be an effect. It is true that there is no 100% proof that mobile phones are safe to use, but that is true of any scientific study. Further investigation should be encouraged, but without conclusive proof, the benefits of mobile phone use will continue to far outweigh the costs.
Mobile phones are too expensive for children
Mobile phones are too expensive for children. Even if basic models are cheap to buy, calls are expensive and charges soon mount up because ‘what kids really want to do is text-message their friends, download music or play games’. Many young people run up big bills their parents have to pay. A few rich families might be able to afford this, but for many parents the hours their kids spend on their cell phones are an uncontrollable expense they cannot cope with. Others are under peer pressure to get the newest, most stylish phones with all the latest gadgets.
Banning mobile phones would at least partially reduce the financial strain on poorer families.
Mobile phones are not too expensive for children – children use pocket money to buy credit and often inherit ‘hand-me-down’ handsets initially. As noted by the opposition, basic models are cheap and the subscription itself is at the mercy of the buyer. Parents can always say “no” or set limits on what the children can spend. With modern payment plans children can be given a set amount of credit for calls and texts. Learning to work within financial limits is an important part of growing up. In any case, many young people have part-time jobs so they are spending their own money, not their parents and learning to control use and financially managing phone use is a very good skill to learn. Nevertheless, even if it were the case that mobile phones are too expensive, that does not render their ability to keep children safe negligible, for one cannot place a price on a child’s safety.Improve this
Mobile phones are inappropriate distractions in school
Mobile phones are inappropriate in schools. They take students’ attention away from their lessons and undermine discipline. Rules about having them turned off in lessons are impossible to enforce – students just put them in silent mode and secretly text or play games in the back of the class. There have been many cases of students using mobiles to cheat in tests, in 2005 60% of cases involving taking unauthorized items into exam rooms involved mobile phones, and some of students recording embarrassing footage of their teachers to post on the internet. Schools are for learning and anything which gets in the way of that should be banned.
Mobile phones are now a valuable part of student life. They can be used for ‘creating short movies, setting homework reminders, recording a teacher reading a poem and timing science experiments’. Moreover, because parents feel their children are safer carrying a phone, they are more likely to allow them to travel to school on their own rather than driving them. This promotes greater independence for the children, while taking traffic off the roads which is environmentally-friendly. Like many other things, mobiles can be distracting in class but this doesn’t mean they should be banned. Many schools allow – some actively encourage - phones to be carried providing they are turned off in lesson.
Mobile phones are open to abuse
Mobile phones are open to abuse, offering activities which are very inappropriate for children. The ability of modern phones to display graphics has led to the rise of mobile pornography, sexting, gambling and cyber-bullying. Most parents restrict their children’s television viewing and computer use, but it is much harder for them to monitor mobile phone use. In 2004, British mobile phone operators, in an effort to combat mobile abuse, enacted regulation that prevents children purchasing phones with unlimited internet access. Though this demonstrates a problem has been identified, the solution does not address phones bought by parents for their children or children who already own phones with unlimited internet access. Given this, it is best that children are not allowed to own them.
Anything can be abused or used to harm other person, including pencils and paper. New technology carries some risks but we should not be rushed into panic measures. Children got hold of pornography, gambled and bullied each other long before mobile phones were invented. The relationship between childhood and new mobile technologies is complex. These problems won’t go away if we ban phone use – they can only be dealt with through good parenting and moral education. In the meantime, parents can get phones which block inappropriate content, and ensure that their children do not have credit cards to pay for it. They should make sure that children know how to report abuse or what to do if they receive inappropriate material on the phone. An American company Disney Mobile is also one of an increasing number of phone makers who ‘provides families with mobile phones specifically designed for tweens, young teens and parents who want to keep an eye on them’. The potential for the abuse of mobile phones is low if parents are informed and vigilant and ensure they buy their children the right phone and right plan.
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