If you have observed any gathering place of teens — malls, school and campus, movie theaters, concerts, etc. — you may have come away with the impression that every other kid has a cell phone and is afraid not to use it.
Your impression was correct: almost half of 10 – 18 year olds in the U.S. use cell phones, representing a total market value of $10.7 billion, according to a study released yesterday by market research firm GfK NOP Technology.
“The teen and tween market is a critical one for wireless providers to capture, with 70% of its value coming from kids who spend more than $50 per month on their phone service,” says Ben Rogers, Vice President, GfK NOP Technology. “Clearly, the days when parents admonished their kids to use cell phones only for emergencies are over. Now, cell phones are a staple of teen and tween life, not only for calling friends and family but also for a range of other activities.
“For instance, 53% of kids play games on their phones, with more than a third downloading new games … 52% use their phone’s calendar/organizer option … and nearly all teens who have camera phones are snapping pictures. In addition, the overwhelming majority of teen and tween cell phone owners — 89% — have used or changed their ring tones, to add a personal touch to their cells.”
Teen Lindsey Bosse of tony Telluride, Colo., writes that a cell phone is de rigueur: “Not only does it matter if you have a cell phone, but you have to have a ‘cool’ cell phone. The cool cell phones are small, have color screens, have the ability to buy games, ringtones and music, and take pictures and send them to others. Usually it helps if they have cool, colored cases and they are slip or sliding phones … My cell phone is pretty big, doesn’t flip, has a black and white screen, really lame games, and no camera, but I would like to tell you something amazing it does. It allows people to call me anywhere anytime.”
Including in the car, and that is a big problem.
Traffic accidents are the leading cause of teenage fatalities, with young drivers twice as likely to die on the road as older drivers. Learning how to drive and becoming efficient in traffic requires all the concentration a new driver can muster.
National Transportation Safety Board research has shown that drivers who use a wireless telephone while driving can lose situational awareness and experience “inattention blindness,” and cell phone use by 20 year–olds can decrease their response time to that of a 70 year–old driver.
So, if you have a typical teen driving while talking on a cell phone, you have a hormone-addled, distracted, antsy showoff with delusions of indestructability and the response time of a 70 year-old: yes, I generalized to make a point but it’s a pretty grim picture nonetheless, especially with half of all teens now having phones.
As a result, last month the NTSB urged states to pass laws banning all cell phone use among teenage drivers. Eleven states — Colorado, Texas, Minnesota, Illinois, Tennessee, Maine, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland — and DC have passed some form of law against drivers under 18 talking while tooling, and Michigan has a bill pending.
“Common sense tells you that with inexperienced drivers on the road, anything we can do to keep their attention on the roadway is beneficial for all of us,” said state Rep. David Law, who sponsored the Michigan bill.
While we are still in the early stages of developing cell phone culture, the time is now to firmly establish parameters for their safe use, especially for youngsters.