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Giving mobile phones to young children is akin to opening a Pandora’s Box of peer pressure and health problems, writes NANDHINI SUNDAR

The ubiquitous handset is once again in the limelight for the wrong reasons. The mobile phone, literally a style statement for every trendy teen and an indispensable gadget of every adult, has grabbed centre stage with questions raised on the the prudence of parents giving teenagers phones.

The recent pilot study by the Jawaharlal Nehru University where rats were subject to radiation from mobile phones showed damaged DNA and low sperm count leading to infertility. Whether the same is true for humans is yet to be proven but the Ministry of Telecommunication chooses to play safe, by advising reduced use of mobile phones, especially among children and pregnant women.

Spotting young children, some as young as ten, with mobile phones, some of which are not just practical handsets but exotic ones capable of multiple functions, is no more a rare sight. In most cases, children have access to such phones because they are then “contactable” by parents. While the contactable factor may feature as a justifying agent, what is often overlooked is the element of misuse as well as the questionable health effect on young growing bodies.

Does this mean children below 16 years should be prevented from having unlimited access to mobiles. Are parents making a mistake, providing children with mobiles? Says Vidya Mulky, economist and mother of two teenagers: “Denial always brings craving and this is better addressed by making phones available yet teaching your child to be responsible with it. Besides providing a phone makes your child contactable which is very important.” As for misuse, she contends that it can be dealt by providing a basic handset sans multiple features.

However, Dr. Gopalakrishna, Chairman, NPS Group has a different take on this. “Parents anxious about children’s safety provide mobiles to ensure contact. Unfortunately this is lavishly misused by children especially when fancy handsets are provided. Parents by and large either lack knowledge about the health aspects or are passive about it.”

Unlimited access

According to him, when a few parents give their children unlimited access to fancy mobile phones, this leads to peer pressure, prompting parents to yield to the pressure. As for the argument of quelling a craving by making it accessible, he puts it down to sheer lack of understanding of the adolescent mind.

“Children at that age tend to get addicted and misled. Not all children can handle phones responsibly and this only leads to more problems.”

Smitha Dubey, mother of two young teenagers concurs. “The mobile culture has only compounded the difficulties of raising teenagers. Children are provided fancy mobiles by parents who fail to realise that it can be misused. Unlimited access again prompts them to spend hours talking or messaging at the cost of study time. Invariably these children are given mobiles when there is no serious need for it.”

Says Dr. Gopalakrishna, “Sensitising parents on the ills of such mobiles does not always yield a positive response. Banning it during school hours helps to a certain extent but does not solve the problem as children have access to it once they leave school.”

He avers that a blanket ban by the government on use of mobile phones by children below 16 years would help tackle this both from the health as well as social perspective.

Ananditha, mother of a 19-year-old, however, advocates the middle path. “Parents should make mobiles available only when the situation warrants, where there is a need to maintain contact with the child. While doing so, the level of use by the child should be strictly monitored in terms of talk time provided as well through the kind of handset made available.”

While opinions on children using mobiles can be as wide ranged as the features provided on the various handsets, one thing seems obvious. Parents would do well to approach this with caution, aware of the impact it has on the child.

Adopting a more need based approach seems prudent as compared to merely quelling cravings.

 Phone in

Parents give children mobile phones so that they are always reachable

A basic handset sans multiple features can check misuse

The level of use should be strictly monitored

A study where rats were subjected to radiation from mobile phones showed damaged DNA and low sperm count

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