Durban – South African teenagers are addicted to their cellphones, so much so that without them, they have withdrawal symptoms similar to those quitting drugs.

This is according to a survey by the University of South Africa’s Bureau of Market Research on high school pupils enrolled at 11 private and public secondary schools.

The survey, conducted in 2014 among 1 684 high school pupils revealed that more than 80% of pupils owned smart phones, with 47.6% of them displaying compulsive cellphone addiction behaviours.

“There is clear evidence that learners are immersed into cellphones, which has become their all-in-one device for all communication and information needs,” said Professor Deon Tustin, lead researcher of the study.

Tustin said 78.6% of pupils were “nomophobes” – coined from a term “no-mobile-phone-phobia” – who constantly had their cellphones close to them and at times when the cellphones were misplaced, became anxious.

“A slightly higher proportion of learners (52.3%) show typical habits associated with dependency disorder when compared to the 42.2% of learners that show typical psychological symptoms associated with cellphone overuse. Approximately, six in every 10 school learners (61.2%) are highly reliant on cellphones, regarded as a common denominator for inclusivity or being part of a digital cellphone community of friends. This finding also displays high levels of ‘ethnocentrism’ or beliefs among learners of the superiority of belonging to a mobile phone community or culture,” he said.

The survey found that cellphone use increased expansively over the past three years, with an average of between 25 and 35 calls being made and received daily by teenagers.

“Just less than half (46.5%) of learners spend more than 5 hours a day on their cellphones, 46.4% of learners store between 11 and 100 personal contacts on their phones, and approximately a quarter of learners store on average more than 12 cellphone applications.”

The survey found that 10% of pupils spent more than R500 a month on cellphones, a third spent between R100 and R500 a month, while a quarter spent less than R100 a month. One in 10 said they spent 80% of their total monthly pocket money on cellphones.

Alarmingly, some pupils admitted snapping and filming sexual content at school which they sometimes sold.

The study found that 12% of pupils said they had sent sexually suggestive nude images of themselves to others, while 72% said they regretted some of the texts they sent.

However, the majority of pupils mainly used their cellphones for music, games, taking photos and “virtual socialising”.

“It is also clear from the analysis that more than 80% of learners send photos or videos, which places them at risk of online predators. Furthermore, three-quarters (76.7%) of learners play games. Online gambling, shopping and reading are least practised by learners compared to other cellphone uses. “This finding suggests that learners have not yet nurtured cellphones as an online education tool to the same extent of using cellphone devices for entertainment and social purposes,” Tustin said.

Jackie Branfield, founder of Bobby Bear, which helps victims of child abuse, said parents should take an active role in their children’s cellphone behaviour.

“Children taking nude pictures of themselves and sharing it with others, sometimes much older people is a reality. A mother from England called me recently saying that they went through her 9-year-old son’s cellphone and found pictures of his genitals, pictures of an 18-year-old’s genitals, including explicit messages. I told him to go straight to the police,” she said.

Branfield said parents should set boundaries in the home as to when cellphones could be used and should actively monitor their children’s behaviour.

“Most parents want to be friends with their children and they should just forget it. They have plenty of friends and parents should not let their children do as they please. They should tell them ‘I bought this phone for you and I will check it’ .”


IOL: Hooked on cellphones