Cell phones and iPads rank as the most-wanted gifts of the season among youngsters, with 65% placing these devices at the top of their wish lists, according to SodaHead.com, a discussion community with more than 10 million visitors a month.
However, those clamoring to stuff their kids’ holiday stockings with the latest electronic gadgets would do well to ponder experts’ warnings before buying one, advises Environmental Health Trust (EHT) and Healthy Child Healthy World, non-profit research and educational groups. Would you give your child the keys to the car or a shot of whiskey just because she really wanted it?
Should you buy your baby her own cell phone with a handy drool-proof rattle casing that won’t break when it gets tossed to the ground or used as a pacifier? After all, cell phone prices have dropped, making them ideal gifts. “What harm could it do to youngsters to have such a cool, hot gadget—especially one with which they can learn to read, call the police, see movies, or just play Angry Birds? The answer is: plenty,” advises EHT founder Dr. Devra Davis.
Few people appreciate that all of these wireless devices come with manufacturers’ fine print warnings not to hold them next to an adult body, or that controlled studies show that microwave radiation from cell phones weaken the brain’s protective barrier and produce fewer and more damaged offspring and sperm. The kicker is this: All safety warnings for cell phones (e.g., “keep 0.98 inches from the body”) were designed to protect a less-than-typical user: namely, a large fellow with a big head who talks on his phone for less than half an hour a day.
According to a recently published scientific report from EHT, children’s brains absorb twice as much microwave radiation from cell phones as adults. Radiation from cell phones carried in shirts or pants pockets of adults is four to seven times higher than the guidelines set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the U.S. For the smaller bodies of children, of course, levels would be even much greater.
The reason for the discrepancy, EHT says, is that the process to determine radiation from cell phones is modeled on a 6-foot 2-inch tall, 220-pound man, with an eleven-pound head. Because this large skull represents only about three percent of the population, the test cannot accurately predict the radiation exposure of the other 97 percent, including children, nor does it even try to estimate exposures from pocket use.
“The standard for cell phones has been developed based on old science, old models and old assumptions about how we use cell phones, and that’s why they need to change and protect our children and grandchildren,” said Dr. Davis.
Read the Fine Print for “Pocket Gifts”
A New Zealand study led by researcher Mary Redmayne of the School of Geography, Environment and Earth Science at Victoria University in Wellington documented the looming dangers for young teens. Redmayne found that a majority of New Zealand adolescents broke school rules and carried a switched-on cell phone in their pants pocket for more than six hours daily. Even where schools ban phones, more than two in five middle schoolers regularly sent texts from within a side pocket; a fifth carried one for more than 10 hours a day, and used it in-pocket. This impressive ability to text without looking could well impair future fertility and/or reproductive integrity.
Parents may not be surprised to learn that a group of high risk-takers was identified. For these rule-breaking middle schoolers, bans on school use of cellphones prompted high texting rates, carrying the phone switched-on for more than 10 hours per day, and using them in-pocket.
Dr. Davis also calls parents’ attention to another iPad fine print warning that states, “a small percentage of people may be susceptible to blackouts or seizures (even if they have never had one before) when exposed to flashing lights or light patterns such as when playing games or watching videos… Discontinue use of iPad and consult a physician if you experience headaches, blackouts, seizures, convulsion, eye or muscle twitching, loss of awareness, involuntary movement, or disorientation. To reduce risk of headaches, blackouts, seizures and eyestrain, avoid prolonged use, hold iPad some distance from your eyes, use iPad in a well-lit room, and take frequent breaks.”
Consumers can find this and more on the iPad safety pamphlet. “Whoever wrote this probably had in mind the adult who can fork over $400 to $500 for the iPad,” advises Dr. Davis. “Yet nowadays, even babies and toddlers are learning to read from wired devices and falling asleep to white noise played from phones placed under their pillows. A child’s brain, healthy or otherwise, is cased in a thinner skull; that’s why they absorb more microwave radiation. The brains of children with learning problems, autism or other neurological disorders may be more vulnerable to damage than those of their healthy friends and family members. People need to know that the only safe way for a child to use such a device is when it is disconnected from the wireless.”
The iPad safety advice doesn’t consider these issues, but does include information about exposure to radiofrequency energy. The pamphlet notes, “If you are…concerned about exposure to RF energy, you can further limit your exposure by limiting the amount of time using iPad WiFi +3G in wireless mode…and by placing more distance between your body and iPad Wi-Fi +3G.” Children cannot keep “more distance” between themselves and these devices for one simple reason; their arms are too short.
“There's no denying these gadgets are fun; my kids love them too,” says Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff, Executive Director and CEO of Healthy Child Healthy World. “But these technologies are developing faster than our ability to understand potential health impacts. We're not asking parents to not buy or use them, we're simply asking them to take precautions. It's better to be safe rather than sorry when it comes to our children's health.”
“The best present a parent can give their child is the gift of safety,” says Dr. Davis. “That’s why I’m urging each and every parent on our list to access and share the potentially life-saving tips we offer on cell phone safety.” On its website, EHT provides tools for parents to print and distribute to their local schools, day care centers, Mommy-and-me groups, stroller groups and Parent-Teacher Association meetings.