Court-involved youth and social meanings of mobile phones

Screen shot 2013-06-23 at 8.49.02 PM

photo by Tara L. Conley

“The mobile is the glue that holds together various nodes in these social networks: it serves as the predominant personal tool for the coordination of everyday life, for updating oneself on social relations, and for the collective sharing of experiences. It is therefore the mediator of meanings and emotions that may be extremely important in the ongoing formation of young people’s identities” (Stald; 2008, pg. 161).

"Dependency Court involved youth rarely have access to a computer or cell phone, and even when they do, it is often only for a short period of time" (Peterson; 2010, pg. 7).

The following is a conversation about cell phones between me and young people involved in foster care and juvenile justice systems. This excerpt is part of ongoing research. Please do not republish.

Tara: I have a question. You all have cell phones, right? And they’re reliable? Do young people [who are court-involved] have cell phones? Do they have data plans? Do they have Smartphones? Do they have flip phones?

Male 1: Some of them have flip phones. Some of them have Smartphones. There are some of them who are scared to pull out their flip phones because...

Female 1: They may get picked on.

Male 1: Exactly!

Tara: They might what?

Female 1: Picked on.

Tara: Picked on? Really?

Male 1: Yes!

Tara: Because they have a flip phone and not a Smartphone?

Male 1: Yes!

Tara: That’s horrible.

Male 1: Kids are vindictive.

Male 2: If you still got a Blackberry you might get picked on.

Female 1: I have a Blackberry. How does that make me less of a person? Because I don’t have an upgraded phone like you?

Male 1: I like it! My Blackberry. I like it more because it’s more of a useful phone than the iPhone and the Galaxy.

Female 1: But you know what? I also think it’s the media that portrays it that way. Like we need it.

Male 1: Of course.

Female 1: It’s like water. Our tap water gets checked everyday to make sure it’s safe for our bodies, but [bottled water] might not get checked as much, but they make it seem like we need it more.

Male 1: But see, if you want to talk about that, that’s on a whole other level. That’s propaganda!

Female 1: But they make it seem like we need this special water.

Male 1: Yeah! They do that with everything! It’s how the government makes money off of the foolish.

Male 2: But then there’s a lot of girls who be like, ‘Oh, if you don’t have an iPhone 5, you’re not popular.’


Male 1: Yup.

Male 2: The kids get into stuff like that you know. So, I mean there are some kids who don’t have a phone...

Tara: You have an iPhone?

Male 1: Yeah, the 5.

Tara: You have an iPhone?

Female 2: No, the Galaxy Exhibit.

Tara: But they’re all Smartphones?

Male 1, Male 2, Female 1: Yeah.

Male 1: Most of the time, look, it’s hard as hell right now to find a flip phone.


Male 1: I’m not even going to lie, if you got a flip phone, I’m probably gonna laugh.



Peterson, S. B. (2010). Dependency court and mentoring: The referral stage. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Stald, G. (2008). Mobile identity: Youth, identity, and mobile communication media. Youth, Identity, and Digital Media. Edited by David Buckingham. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. pp. 143–164. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.