Mobile Phones and Children: An Australian Perspective

Article excerpt

Introduction

"Mum/Dad, Can you pick me up, please?" This is a common telephone call most Australian parents receive from their teenage children sometime late at night on weekends. Australian teenagers of both sexes often go out with friends on Saturday nights from around the age of 15 years and the arrangements for getting together and transport to and from their venues are often made via the teens' mobile phones. These mobiles also give parents at home a link to their children while away from parental supervision and a sense of safety and connectivity. Most of these teens also take part in part-time casual employment, which provides them with a discretionary income to pay for the mobile phones and creating a need to be contactable by employers at short notice when work shifts suddenly become available.

The rate for mobile phone penetration in Australia is over 92% or 19 million subscribers reached in less than 20 years of adoption. In comparison, the number of fixed line phones number only 11 million (Chapman, 2006). The nation also records one of the world's highest rates of mobile phone ownership among children under the age of 18. In 2005, mobile phones were owned by about 80,000 five to nine year-olds, with 50% of all owners being those between 13 and 15, and a third between 10 and 13 (O'Riordan, 2005), in a nation with a population a little over 20 million (ABS, 2006). The younger children have their mobiles paid for by their parents and the average monthly bill for a mobile phone for those under 18 is estimated to be about $50 a month (Allison, 2004).

Purpose of Study

Even though the social advantages of mobile phones to children and others are many and obvious, there are many different and often valid view points or discourses expressed as to their disadvantages, harms and potential and actual abuses, circulating in Australia and elsewhere. Therefore, it is important to examine all issues related to mobile phones and children of this relatively new technology since limited studies have been so far carried out as to how it impacts, represents and integrates work, family, social relationships and leisure of Australians and their children and to help society and the telecommunications industry to read each other correctly (Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association [AMTA], 2004). It will also help users, society at large and its institutions to examine measures to optimise the advantages and minimise the disadvantages of this useful and ubiquitous technology with its known as well as potential long term adverse effects, in a range of areas such as health, economics, culture, and the politics or power relations between children and adults.

Data Collection Methods

This paper takes the interpretive and critical theory perspectives (Crotty, 1998) in examining the main discourses (Dicken-Garcia, 1998) and debates about mobile phone use and children in Australia using a textual analysis (qualitative content analysis) of published materials on the discourses of mobile phones and children in Australia. These data sources were identified and the relevant data collected by searching the Mass Media Complete (formerly the Matlon Index) for scholarly literature on the subject; the Factiva database (similar to LexisNexis) for newspaper and trade articles; Google and Google Scholar sites us8ng the keywords, mobile phones, Australia, children etc. Websites of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA), and the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA) were also searched on several occasions between 2005 and 2006.

These sources of information were supplemented with depth interviews with Andrew Funston, an Australian academic widely cited for his work on mobile phone use by young people in Australia (Funston & Hughes, 2006; Funston & McNeill, 1999) and Ross Monaghan, also an Australian academic, former executive of the Optus telecommunications company and the former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of AMTA- the group that represents mobile phone operators, manufacturers, dealers and carriers in Australia. …