Teenagers who prefer texting to talking have driven some parents to call for a minimum cellphone ownership age of 14.
"Parents are worried teenagers are losing the ability to properly communicate with eye-to-eye contact," said Shanti Ravichandran, of Auckland's Unitec, who has surveyed parents' attitudes to teenage cellphone use.
She said the use of text language was "overpowering" among teenagers, with some even using it in school examinations.
Ravichandran, a Master of Computing graduate, said 52 per cent of the 115 parents or caregivers she surveyed felt there should be a minimum age of 14 for cellphone ownership.
"They linked it to that because they said until you're 14 you're not allowed to do anything legally alone in this country," she said. "If you want to stay at home alone, for example, you should be a minimum of 14 years old."
Before 14, children should be able to communicate face to face, she said. "You need a device only when you tend to be alone and independent."
Young teenagers were at a crossroads and often in a teenage crisis. "On top of that, you've got a device which opens up a virtual life," she said.
"You have your own private space and you have a person on the other side of the cellphone. You don't have a significant connection. You'll only carry the message and not the emotion."
Ravichandran said many children younger than 14 had cellphones. "From 2005 to 2009 there has been a rapid change in cellphone use," she said.
Parents' main concerns about cellphones were text bullying, addiction to text messaging and the negative impact on communication skills, she said.
"Because it is so discreet, teenagers are doing it under their sheets and they're not getting enough sleep."
Parents were also worried about "macro co-ordination", where a single message was sent around a network of people.
Ravichandran said some parents cited Christchurch's Edgeware Rd tragedy, where two schoolgirls were killed at an out-of-control party attended by teenagers encouraged to attend through a mass text message.
Cellphones could be useful for teenagers to stay in touch with their parents while out, she said. But 86 per cent of parents said the negatives of cellphone use outweighed the positives.
A Unicef report released this year showed New Zealand's 15 to 24-year-olds were among the highest users of cellphones and the internet. There were 94 cellphone owners and 79 internet users per 100 Kiwis aged between 15 and 24, it said.
New Zealand's fastest texter is being sought by LG Mobile in a contest starting at Christchurch's Northlands Shopping Centre today and tomorrow.
One finalist will be chosen from each city, with the winner given $10,000 and a trip to New York to compete in the LG Mobile World Cup in early December.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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