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Nurture Ethical Digital Media Use Among Adolescents

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“We have provided our teens with a high tech world of endless connectivity-We must also insure for them the ingredients of privacy, balance, space and time to make it safe as well as vital” Suzanne Phillips

Adolescence is the time when life really opens up for young people: suddenly they're going out on their own, meet up with friends, go sporting, holiday bashes or to fares. There’s no doubt youth have embraced mobile technology. Today’s cell phones are personal, palm-sized entertainment and social networking tools from which they can play games, music, communicate, send messages, exchange information and share videos and images. From the perspective of youths, cell phones are portable, accessible and discreet, with text messaging rapidly becoming the preferred way for them to chat with friends. Given this social aspect, it’s not surprising that adolescent girls text more than adolescent boys! But for young people, cell phones are much more than a tool for chatting; they’re an essential part of their social lives. Overall on average, adolescent girls spend more time than boys consuming mobile media.

There are a wide range of digital applications today that can connect to other people and other networks as WhatsApp, YouTube, Facebook, etc. The most prevalent of these devices are mobile gaming devices like the Nintendo DS and DSi and the Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP). These devices are not just for games. The PSP offers internet connectivity through WiFi and has a version of Skype, a free voice over IP (VoIP) application that allows users to make calls, often for free, over the internet. Skype also has an embedded instant messaging client, meaning that PSP users can IM others from their device.

Various applications have flooded the market and there is fear that if the adolescents are not guided, they can be overwhelmed and loose direction. The rapid shift of using mobile phones as multimedia devices even makes it very difficult to monitor or supervise an adolescent’s internet access on his/her phone. I believe they need to know how to manage temptations from going to irresponsible sites e.g. pornography and becoming prey to abusers. In fact, owning a cell phone is a privilege, not a right: and with this privilege comes responsibilities.

In Uganda today projects such as reporting gender based violence and information on the menstrual management for adolescents, HIV/AIDS, crop diseases through texting by mobile phone have become popular.

You will strongly appreciate that adolescents have used their mobile phones for multitasking, fast thinking, problem solving, information gathering etc. which are valuable, life-enhancing attributes for an adolescent. My teenage children use their smartphones for all this. Mobile phones offer young people independence, something that they crave. Their world has opened up, in an entirely positive way, and it will undoubtedly have knock-on effects for their development, thanks to mobile phones. Skill development: A mobile phone will definitely also provide the adolescent the opportunity to develop mobile communication etiquette, media and communication skills.Mobile phones are one way to keep contact with each other; friends, family etc. It gives you peace of mind and help keep safe when out.

Dealing with some of the challenges that might come with adolescent mobile phone use can be done by promoting safe and responsible mobile phone behavior. Owning a mobile phone comes with a lot of excitement and exploration. So helping adolescents appreciate that this comes with extra bills is important. Some costs are hidden, such as subscriptions that incur ongoing costs and are usually charged at higher rates such as; ringtones, voting for various promotions, football premier leagues etc, purchasing or downloading content, sending MMS (photos and video) messages.

Letting the adolescent know when it’s OK to take calls or reply to texts; when the phone should be on silent or switched off; whether s/he’s allowed to have the phone in his/her room at night. Educating adolescents about limiting who should have his/her mobile phone number can help keep them safe. Many adolescents will develop a strong sense of ownership and attachment to their mobile phones creating addiction. Many adolescents sleep with their cell phone near the bed. Some adolescents become obliged, anxious, and even addicted. This jeopardizes physical, emotional and cognitive functioning and limits spheres of influence and connection. Cell-phone texting has become the preferred channel of basic communication between adolescents and their friends. Creating what is referred to as the Texting Trap.

Bullying and ‘sexting’; using mobile phones can expose adolescents to cyberbullying and ‘sexting’ (sending sexually explicit photo or video content via mobile phone). In recent years “sexting” where teens exchange sexually explicit messages and images has become a growing concern. It becomes very important that adolescents are talked to on the need for appropriate use of his/her mobile phone. We should be concerned because the majority of sexting is carried out by young men circulating images and videos of young women.

The sexual Health Improvement Project has seen it necessary to add a session on using digital media with integrity in its training manual. Imparting self-discipline, critical thinking and ethical behavior are skills adolescents need to be given in this digital age to create ‘cybercitizens’.

‘After all, we're grappling with the newness and the unknowns of mobile phone technology just as our children are, and the things they're getting wrong may be the things we're not role-modelling very well for them. Joanna Moorhead’ (The Guardian)

This story was written for World Pulse’s Women Weave the Web Digital Action Campaign. Learn more »

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Comments

travelpoet's picture

Thank you!

Thank you, Ikirimat, for this article about the benefits and challenges of mobile phone use and connectivity for young people in Uganda! You seem very well informed about a wide array of apps and programs that can provide benefit (i.e. menstrual management, information about STDs, and farming techniques and methods.

It's true as well that with expanded opportunity comes potential risks. Young people in particular do not always realize that content they generate or view leaves behind a digital footprint that is trace-able by others. Thank you for highlighting the hidden costs that can be incurred, anti-social habits that may develop from over-reliance on technology and phone use, and healthy parameters for cell phone etiquette.

My hope is that we can move forward with a healthy balance of an expanded worldview and personal connections while still being respectful "cybercitizens."

Best wishes from an American sister!
Kristie

ikirimat's picture

Thank you Kristie for you

Thank you Kristie for you analytical response. My interest in work has been around young people and women. I'm also a mum to adolescents.The recent demand for us to harness digital use has made me explore more into the cyber world. Which interests for me basically emanated from this platform (WP). Its my hope too that we can balance use of digital app in a respectful way since the benefits are great.

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


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