The teen obsession with yakking, text messaging and ring-tone swapping on cell phones might mean more than a whopping phone bill. For the most crazed, it's a sign of unhappiness and anxiety, according to a new medical study of 575 South Korean high school students.
Scientists found that the top third of users - students who used their phones more than 90 times a day - frequently did so because they were unhappy or bored. They scored significantly higher on tests measuring depression and anxiety than students who used their phones a more sedate 70 times daily.
The study, presented this week at a meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in Toronto, was among the first to explore the emotional significance of teens' cell phone habits as the device becomes more entrenched in today's youth culture.
Two of every five youths in the U.S. from ages 8 to 18 have a cell phone, according to a recent survey. Students in grades seven through 12 spend an average of an hour a day on their cell phones - about the same time they devote to homework.
Some earlier studies involving college students have suggested a link between heavy cell phone use and depression. Other research has shown that students incorporate cell phones into their personal identities.
For teens, cell phones were "not just objects or communications tools. They were portals for being in touch with other people - extensions of themselves," said Christina Wasson, a University of North Texas anthropologist who has studied cell phone use.
Dr. Jee Hyan Ha, lead author of the latest report, said heavy cell phone users involved in his study weren't clinically depressed. Rather, he said, the students probably had some serious cases of teen angst.