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Lisa Belkin

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Teens Will Risk WHAT For Their Phones?

Posted: 03/15/2012 1:28 pm

If your beloved was in danger, would you come to the rescue? What if that meant jumping onto the train tracks to pull him to safety? Diving into an icy river? Jump head first down a trash chute?

That's what today's teens have done for the love of their lives -- which, arguably, is their cell phone.

Most recently, a 19-year-old from Atlanta mistakenly dropped her phone in the bag that held the detritus from her fast food order this past weekend, then dumped the whole thing into the chute in her apartment building. Her solution? She stuck her arms and head in to retrieve the bundle, then lifted her feet off the floor, and became stuck. It took the fire department to remove her.

Don't worry, they found her phone, too.

The ending was not quite so happy for many of the other teens whose daring rescue attempts have made the news of late. There are the two girls who jumped off a bridge into a fast running creek near Utica, N.Y. last April, after one dropped her phone while trying to take a photo of the water. They were pulled to safety by firefighters, too, and treated for exposure. (The phone was not recovered...)

And then there's the boy in Hong Kong who stepped in front of (then dove under) an oncoming subway last December. He was taken from the scene on an ambulance backboard. But the phone was safe.

Parents have always worried that little kids will jump in front of a car to follow a ball, or a puppy -- but a phone? (Or a phone equivalent -- a 16-year-old in Tampa dropped her iPod while crossing the street, went back to grab it, and was hit by a truck. Her leg was apparently broken. No word on the condition of the iPod.)

These are just machines, right? And teens know better?

No.

You already knew that teens have undeveloped pre-frontal cortexes, right? Well, researchers now tell us that modern ones are suffering from a specific phone-related syndromes, too. One of those researchers is a teen herself, and a winner of an Intel science scholarship last year for her work documenting the addictive pull of cell phones. Michelle Hackman placed high school students in a room one at a time -- half of them with their cellphones, the other half without. The monitors measuring the subjects' physical symptoms of anxiety, as well as their answers to surveys about their mental state, found that those without the phones went through a kind of withdrawal. "Subjects who had phones taken away from them experienced decreases in their stimulation," she told NPR. "Cellphones and other sorts of technology are very inherently stimulating. And so when you take them away, a kid becomes understimulated and almost doesn't know how to entertain himself."

Because everything needs a name, an Internet security firm gave the "fear of being without a cellphone" a cute one a few weeks ago: "nomophobia." (Think about it for a moment. Got it? No Mobile-Phone Phobia.)

The British company, SecurEnvoy, polled 1,000 respondents and found that 66 percent reported symptoms of anxiety when away from their phone, compared with 11 percent in a similar survey four years earlier. And you probably won't be surprised to hear, the younger the respondent, the more likely they are to suffer. Of the youngest age group, between 18 and 24, nomophobia was reported by 77 percent, while the next youngest group, ages 25 to 34, that rate was ten points lower.

So what is a parent to do?

Perhaps not start them quite so young. Just yesterday the toy company Leapfrog released data showing that the average British child under the age of 10 spends just shy of one hour every day (58 minutes) using technology. Two-thirds already own their own camera or "mobile device," the survey found. Six percent own their own iPad, 16 percent own their own computer, and 70 percent spend time on their parents'.

Another piece of advice: Watch your back if you get between a teen and what one researcher calls an "electronic security blanket." A father outside Seattle learned this the hard way last May when he took his 15-year-old daughter's cell phone in order to punish her -- and she shot him in the torso with a bow and arrow.

Ah, young, addicted, love.


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