Phones Unsafe for Kids?

Knee pads? Check. Low-sodium, sugar-free diet? Check.

Annual well-child physical? Check. Seat belts in the minivan and helmets on the bike? Check.

Cell phone? Not so fast.

According to a study released in Europe, your child’s risk of brain cancer may jump as much as five times if he or she uses a cell phone as a youngster.

Presented in London at the conference of the Radiation Research Trust by Lennart Hardell of the University Hospital in Orebro, Sweden, the research concludes that children who start using cell phones before the age of 20 are much more likely to contract glioma, as well as two other forms of cancer. Or not.

Some scientists say the risk of cell phones causing cancer is real; others say it’s just research-induced hysteria that isn’t relevant because the technology has become far safer in the past few years than the mobile phones that would have caused the cancer found in the research.

In fact, some commentators say cell phones make your kids safer because they have a communication tool with which to contact you in the event of abduction. (Because, geez, a bad guy kidnapping your child would never think to grab her cell phone from her. Duh.)

What’s a parent to do? Once again, we face the challenge of sorting out some confusing science in order to implement a best practice for our children.

Cell phone or no cell phone? I’m reminded of a few choices I faced when my children were smaller: Do I put my infants on their backs or their stomachs? Feed them solid foods at six months or wait ’til they’re a year old? Baby walker or no baby walker?

At some point I concluded the best way to parent probably was by flipping a coin.

Since we moms and dads can’t possibly know the validity of any particular study, and since it takes a really long time for scientific people to agree on anything (think evolution, global warming, the cause of the common cold), I’m sticking with the one thing I know I can count on: Common sense.

I know. It’s radical. But more parents really ought to apply this.

Here’s how it works in my house with respect to differing points of view on the safety of cell phones: Cell phones are not toys; therefore, generally speaking, cell phones are not for children.

But what about keeping kids safe when they’re out in the world? My common-sense answer: Make sure the safety of any situation is not dependent on the presence of a cell phone, because common sense suggests that children lose things. Things such as cell phones.

On the other hand, cell phones are good for communicating, and when children become teenagers, being able to communicate with them is a good thing. Even better when the thing you want to communicate is: “Where the heck are you, and why are you not home?”

This isn’t rocket science – or even molecular biology.

The debate about the safety of cell phones for children may rage on for a generation while the scientists collect enough data to make a pronouncement with which everyone can concur. By then, if some researchers are correct, we’ll have medical wards full of brain cancer patients, all of whom wore helmets whenever they rode a bicycle.

In the meantime, in the inexact science of parenting, my approach may be just as effective as a computer model and millions of gigabytes of analysis. Anyway, it’s the only thing I can actually understand.

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  • Richard Bell

    I cannot speak about giving kids cellphones.

    I did receive sound advice about solid food:

    The kid is probably ready for solid food when they start snatching it from your plate.

  • SolaGratia

    Like everything else, the virtue of temperance is the safest route. Explain to your teen the risk along with the uncertainty of how much, if any, is safe and that the cell phone is for emergency use only. Then make sure you actually do keep track of their use – and make sure to let them know that you will be doing so to keep temptation at bay.

    As a teen, my parents were very busy. As long as I made good grades & did what I was supposed to do, they assumed everything was fine. Now that I am in my 40’s, I recognize that I felt neglected (not unloved, but all too often uncared for) and better understand now why I kept flirting with trouble behind their backs & eventually ended up in a sinful relationship. Show your teens how much you care by keeping track of what their doing and showing interest in their lives.