are cell phones dangerous


I knew a child who wouldn’t stop asking her mother to buy her a cell phone. Daily, this kid was working her mother over. Negotiations took place at the breakfast table each morning (before coffee) for weeks until, finally, my friend cracked and bought her daughter a basic cell phone which came with the caveat: Use this in emergencies only. The child seems to have been appeased.

I have somehow managed to avoid the whole “cell phone conversation” by getting my child an iPod Touch (which, by the way, he is currently not allowed to use for an undetermined period of time due to the fact that Boy was so enthralled with his new “toy,” he failed to respond to his father’s clearly audible, repeated request to go and brush his teeth. )

But I digress.

But it’s not a huge digression. I know kids who have had cell phones as early as the 3rd grade. Children have become the earliest adopters of our newest technologies. They pick up on how things work quickly, and we are awed by their abilities to understand what seem to many adults to be such complicated devices.

In an article by Marguerite Reardon, the writer asks the big question: Are cell phones safe? For years, studies have provided conflicting conclusions, and today, there is still no clear answer. One professor of bioengineering at the University of Washington in Seattle, Dr. Henry Lai, has been studying the effects of cell phone radiation on humans since 1980 and says: “There is cause for concern.”

For years, researchers and scientists have debated whether radiation from radio frequencies used to wirelessly transmit phone calls could adversely affect the health of cell phone users. And as more people throughout the world use cell phones and make these devices an integral part of their lives, concerns have grown as to long-term public health issues.

In 2009, it was estimated that in the U.S. alone, more than 270 million Americans (more than 87 percent of the population), now owns a cell phone, according to data compiled by the Marist Poll Marketing Group.

A handful of studies that have looked at the long-term effects of using cell phones suggest people who use a cell phone for at least an hour each day over a 10-year period are at an increased risk of developing brain tumors. This research also suggests that tumors are more likely to be on the side of the head where the phone is most often used.

More recently, researchers have grown particularly concerned about the adverse effects that cell phone usage could have on children. Some research indicates that children are five times more likely to get brain cancer if they use mobile phones, but other research efforts have found results inconclusive.

So here’s the paradox: Everyone worries about the “safety” of his/her  children; of course we do. What parent doesn’t? But are we thinking long-term enough? There is concern that children who start using cell phones at a young age will be exposed for a longer period of time over their entire lifetime to cell phone radiation. Researchers are particularly concerned about the risk of cell phones with children, because children’s nervous systems are not fully developed, their brains contain more fluid than brains of adults, which allows for deeper penetration of radiation.

There has been enough concern among public health officials in various parts of the world to warrant warnings. For example, the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK), a government regulatory body located in the home country of Nokia, the largest cell phone maker in the world, is urging parents to restrict cell phone use for children, suggesting parents encourage kids text rather than talk.

France has proposed banning advertisements encouraging children younger than 12 to use cell phones, and it has also warned parents that children under age six are particularly at risk. The Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. does not go so far as issuing a warning, but the agency recommends minimizing potential risk by using hands-free devices and keeping cell-phone talk to a minimum.

Finland, France and Israel have all issued warnings on their government websites about children using cell phones, while the U.S. has issued no such warnings.

I am certain the day will come when my son will get a cell phone. I don’t know what the moment will look like or what the trigger will be: an event like a birthday, or an actual breakdown in the systems that we currently have in place. I do know that when he gets a phone, that phone will be his responsibility and if he loses it, it will not be treated like a sock or a paperclip. And it will be when it is abundantly clear that he really needs a cell phone. Right now, the school he attends is in our backyard, so if he forgets something at school, the answer to almost any question is some variation of “Well, why don’t you just run back there and see if you can get in the school?” One day, perhaps when he is in high school and starting to drive or if he starts going to huge fencing competitions without us (or if he figures a way to argue his case and win), he can have the most basic cell phone of his choice. Until then, I’m going with the Europeans and the Israelis.

Have a quick listen to this podcast by Dr. Devra Davis, Director of the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Institute, and see what you think:

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