Kids today carry cell phones as a matter of course. Parents like the quick communication, as well as the hours of entertainment, not to mention the educational opportunities that mobile devices provide their children.
But parents need to know the risks linked specifically to children who are exposed to cell phone emissions on a regular (if not constant) basis.
Cell phones emit Radio Frequency-Electromagnetic Radiation (RF-EMR), also called microwave radiation (MWR). The long-term effects on youth from frequent “bathing” in RF signals are unknown because this technology hasn’t been around long enough to conduct 10-20 year health studies on children and cell phone radiation.
Scientific research is ongoing but we do know that children absorb more microwave radiation (MWR) than adults.
In 2010, a study on cell phone radiation said that, generally and on average, compared to adults, children receive a higher exposure of MWR in “subregions of the brain (cortex, hippocampus and hypothalamus) and the eye due to the closer proximity of the phone to these tissues.”
Radiation levels in bone marrow were even higher due to its significantly high conductivity.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) supported this scientific analysis in a letter dated July 12, 2012, which was addressed to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The professional group of children’s doctors first pointed out that the FCC “has not assessed the standard for cell phone radiation since 1996.”
The AAP went on to state that the FCC standard for maximum radiation-exposure levels is based on the heat emitted by mobile phones. Heat is called, scientifically, thermal radiation – which is merely a side effect of MWR and not an accurate measurement of actual RF emissions.
Furthermore, “…concerns have been raised that long-term RF exposure at this level affects the brain and other tissues and may be connected to types of brain cancer, including glioma and meningioma,” continued the AAP’s letter to the FCC.
Finally, the AAP stressed the importance of realizing that youngsters have tissues that are much more sensitive than those of the grown-ups:
“Children, however, are not little adults and are disproportionately impacted by all environmental exposures, including cell phone radiation. In fact, according to IARC [International Agency for Research on Cancer], when used by children, the average RF energy deposition is two times higher in the brain and 10 times higher in the bone marrow of the skull, compared with mobile phone use by adults.”
Another 2009 study looked for links between wireless phone use and tumor diseases. People under age 20 who began using cell phones – and cordless landline phones – were at a higher risk of developing brain tumors than people who started using these wireless phones as adults. This finding was explained by the fact that the closer a radiation source is to a child’s brain, the more MWR penetrates and is absorbed by the thinner tissues and bones, as compared to adults.
Other research has associated youthful cell phone exposure to hyperactivity and emotional and behavioral problems. Children with high cell phone usage were more likely to develop Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
There are several ways to protect children from potentially harmful cell phone radiation:
- Turn on airplane mode when giving a child a technology device or when a cell phone is near a pregnant abdomen, to prevent exposure to radiation.
- Turn off wireless networks and devices to decrease your family’s radiation exposure whenever you aren’t actively using them. As an easy first step, turn your Wi-Fi router off at bedtime.
- Decrease cell phone or WiFi usage where wireless coverage is difficult to avoid an increase in radiation exposure.
- Use the speakerphone or a plug-in earpiece and allow kids to use cell phones only for an emergency.
- Increase the distance between you and your cell phone whenever it is on to reduce your exposure to radiation emitted. Avoid cell phone use when a child sits on your lap and do not carry your cell phone in your baby carrier, crib or pockets. Teach your children to remove their mobile devices from pockets and place them on a surface as far from their body as possible.
- Read the device’s safety specs. All cell phone manufacturers recommend keeping their products at least five millimeters (about 1/4-inch) away from the body and brain. Increase that distance to 10 millimeters (about 1/2-inch) for iPhone 6 and iPhone 6S. This device-specific information can be found on iPhone 5 and iPhone 6 under Settings > General > About > Legal > RF Exposure.
Note that the safety information about MWR-emitting devices falls under the purvue of Apple’s Legal Department. The Environmental Health Trust website tracks 30 years of cases related to brain tumors and cell phone usage. An April 11, 2017 ruling from the Italian Court of Ivrea recognized a causal link between cellphone use and brain tumors, awarding Telecom employee Roberto Romeo lifetime damages of 500 euros (about US$565) a month after he developed a brain tumor from fifteen years of cellphone use.
While more research is needed to confirm suspicions that kids hooked on cell phones run a higher risk of brain tumors and cancer, concerned parents can teach their children to avoid direct contact with radiation-emitting devices and limit their use. The sooner kids learn about the health risks linked to their mobile devices, the better.