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01/09/2001 - Young (under 16) people's mobile phone usage survey

Young People's Mobile Phone usage

Following the concern expressed in the Stewart report (May 2000) about the effects on young people's mobile phone usage, a survey [1] was carried out in early Summer 2001 of 1000 young people and how they use their phones.

941 of these young people were under fifteen. 88% had their own mobile phones and 70% had owned them for at least a year.

One quarter of the young people believed Government information about the potential health risks from using a phone, half believed Independent Scientists 15% believed the media (newspapers and TV) and 12% believed environmental campaigners. Current Government advice for young people under sixteen is that they should only use their phones for essential purposes. The following statistics from the young people seem to indicate that although they may believe the Government information, they do not choose to act on it. Parents have a vital role to play here.

Most of the young people, 77%, used their phones for less than 15 minutes per day, but a concerning 10% used their phones for more than 45 minutes per day. We believe the different usage may be a result of different tariffs. Parents are presumably the main funders of under 15s mobile phone use. The figures given by the children may help parents choose the best tariff to keep their children safe which we believe is the most important reason that parents buy a phone.

Less than 15 minutes 77%                   
15 - 30 minutes 12%
30 - 60 minutes 5%
More than 60 minutes 6%

The first two categories are probably a result of the relatively self-limiting pay-as-you-go tariffs. The last two may be as a result of a monthly rental tariff offering free talk time evenings and weekends. These latter will mean the young person will not pay much attention to the amount of time they spend on the phone because it has very little in the way of cost implications. We suggest that this may not be the best option for young people; the concerns many parents have for the environmental safety of their children could be provided just as easily by a pay-as-you-go tariff; and this tariff greatly decreases the exposure of young people to the as yet uncertain danger of mobile phone emission. It seems that the majority of young people tend to call only one or two friends, no matter how long they spend on the phone.

96% of young people use text messaging. The percentages reveal a pattern similar to that of phone usage above, and probably reveals something about the tariff they are using.

1 - 3 messages 49%
4 - 6 messages 33%
7 - 9 messages 3%
10 - 12 messages 7%
12 or more messages 8%

It is important to identify where the phones are carried. Different parts of the body are more vulnerable to microwave radiation than others. When phones are on standby, they radiate at full power intermittently to keep the connection to the nearest base station. Only 1% of the young people carried their phone on their belt. 70% carried them in their pockets and 29% carried them in their bags. No information about the sex of the respondent was recorded on the questionnaire (the assumption being that more girls than boys carry bags with them when out and about). They were not asked which pockets were used to carry the phones. This may be an important area to follow up.

11% of the young people completing the questionnaire believe that they are affected by the phone radiation. This was an open ended question, with no prompts.  Of the 100 children reporting side effects 26 mentioned physical effects, such as heating, 19 specifically mentioned headaches or migraines and 8 were non-specific about what effect they experienced.

[1] This survey was carried out by the Pupil Research Initiative.  Contact Tony Sherborne for further details. Tel. 0117 928 8718