Who's minding the kids‾

Cat Rust
15 Jun 2007

As more and more kids get mobile phones, some regulations to protect them can't be too far behind

The cigarette industry's surrendered, the alcohol industry's surrendered, the fast food industry is under attack and it won't be much longer before the mobile industry has to raise the white flag too. What am I talking about here‾ Regulation, regulation and more regulation.

In all of these industries, the target audience is getting younger and younger. The mobile business is no different. Just look at some of the statistics. In 2006, according to Wireless World Forum research, more than 13 million kids worldwide aged between five and nine owned a handset, while 54.6 million of 10 to 14 year-olds had one. When surveying youths below the age of 12 on what grown-up item they most wanted, Bandai found that more than 65 percent of them stated they wanted a mobile phone. To put that in context, only seven percent wanted a PC.

Tobacco, alcohol and even fast food have been in some way regulated by (some) world governments to protect our young. But can we leave it up to governments to take the actions necessary to ensure the well-being of today's tech-savvy mobile youths‾

The mobile industry has been growing rapidly, with Asia leading the way. The marketing trends are also becoming apparent. Mobile corporations are targeting our children and youth.

It all began in 2004, when a non-existent market began manufacturing handsets aimed at children under the age of 15. Today there are more than 10 handset models which are targeted to appeal to children - or more specifically, their parents, the buyers. Teddy-bear phones equipped with emergency alarm, navigation control and educational games are paving the way for mobile usage in our youths. And they are coming with encouraging words from the parents.

In a recent consumer survey in Japan, none of the parents mentioned health concerns when asked about what worried them most about their children using mobile phones (whereas it was a top concern for parents in Europe). Perhaps they should think again. Because while for most people a mobile phone remains a fun, socially-enriching tool, it can too easily become an obsession. Red flags around the mobile community went up when a 16-year old South Korean boy committed suicide rather than deal with his mobile phone bill, which had been inflated by excessive gaming. The South Korean government has since stepped in and passed new regulations about how mobile phone companies are marketing their calling plans.

But is that enough‾ With more than 32 percent of youths aged 10-19 now spending more than five hours a day on their mobile phones, according to Nepro Research Japan, how can we as a community not be concerned‾

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