Fully eight out of 10 Norwegian children between the ages of nine and 16 now have not just mobile phones but expensive “smartphones” that they use to play games, take photos, watch videos, surf the Internet and communicate. A new study shows an “explosive” increase in the number of children with smartphones, and that they’re fiddling with them almost constantly.
“It can be a bit much at times,” Kristina Qazimllari, an eighth-grader at Bjørnsletta School in Oslo, told newspaper Dagsavisen on Tuesday. “When I go out with my friends, we’re often all sitting with our mobiles. And I’ll send a text message to my girlfriend who lives right next door to me.”
First phone at age eight
The study presented this week by state agency Medietilsynet shows that the average age of children when they’re given their first mobile phone is now down to eight years old, often much younger.
“I got my first mobile when I was nine, when mamma and pappa split up,” Fredrik Gran Urdahl, now a young teenager, told Dagsavisen. “But it wasn’t a smartphone. I didn’t get that until I was over 10.”
Urdahl is among those who said he barely knows anyone who doesn’t have a smartphone, even though they still cost thousands of Norwegian kroner. Many have the latest versions as well.
“But mine got broken, so now I only have an iPhone3,” Lukas Hauken told Dagsavisen. His friend Julie Skavhaug could sympathize: “Mine is also in for repairs,” she said. “So I just have an iPhone4. It’s slow.”
Hours spent ‘on the phone,’ every day
Medietilsynet’s new study also showed that 60 percent of young Norwegians aged 12 to 14 also have an iPad or some other form of tablet. All told, they spend an average of 108 minutes every day actively using their mobile phones, not so much to call and chat with people but to send messages, check Facebook and use other social media, which alone takes up an average three hours of their time every day.
Nine out of 10 play computer games in their free time, with 70 percent of the boys and 40 percent of the girls saying they play games every day. But it’s social media, video services, search engines and music services that they use most often.
While fewer children are being subjected to electronic bullying, concerns are rising that the massive prevalence and use of smartphones among children is setting up a digital divide against the minority who don’t have smartphones, either because their parents can’t afford them, object to their use at such a young age or the children simply aren’t interested or know how to use them. One researcher told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that she worries children who aren’t growing up with phones in their hands will have trouble at school and work later in life.
Others worry about exactly the opposite, that the children are growing up staring at phone and computer screens instead of learning to communicate face-to-face with people. The youngsters admit there are “good and bad sides” to the technological developments.
“It’s positive that there’s development, but it can be negative if people use it to take the easy way out,” Urdahl told Dagsavisen.