Look around a store, restaurant or even a playground and you will see it: kids on cellphones. Kids have overtaken the world of cell phones. What once was a connected home utility has become the most mobile. It once was solely a means of communication, but has become usable for everything from business to entertainment. They have invaded every moment of our lives. As parents who didn't grow up with these hand-held boxes of communication, what is there to consider about cell phones and our children?
Cell phone owners are getting younger.
According to a new study, 83 percent of middle schoolers, 39 percent of fifth-graders, and 20 percent of third- graders have a mobile device. High schoolers place in the 90th percentile and kindergartners are around the tenth. It is wise for parents to weigh this option and not just allow the popular flow of technology to wind up in the hands of their children.
Long-Term Health Concerns.
The starting point is the health debate regarding cell phone usage. Cell phones give off "microwave" like radiation. The closer the phone is held to the head/ear the greater the radiation. The problem with defining the risks is that studies have simply not had decades to measure its effects.
"Children and teenagers are five times more likely than adults to get brain cancer if they use mobile phones, according to a recent study done in Sweden. Five times. Why are kids so much more susceptible? 'The skull of a child is thinner than that of an adult,' pediatrician Dr. Cara Natterson explains. 'This theoretically allows for easier penetration of electromagnetic waves from a cell phone held up to the ear. And because a child's brain is developing (as opposed to an adult brain, which is much more static), many believe that the cells in a child's brain are more susceptible to damage.'"
Pediatrician Dr. Cara Natterson continues: "The bottom line here is that no one knows for sure whether cell phones -- when held up to the ear -- generate enough radiation to cause tumors over time. But no one knows that they don't. And because there are simple things you can do to minimize your exposure, it is silly not to do them. Almost every neurosurgeon recommends wearing a wired earpiece rather than holding the phone to your head. Most caution against a wireless Bluetooth ear piece, these place an antenna in your ear."
19 percent of kids ages 2-5 know how to play with a smartphone application, only 9 percent of kids those ages know how to tie their shoelaces.
Dr. Natterson says the FDA, the American Cancer Society, and a series of researchers in the U.S. contend that there is no data proving that cell phones cause cancer. But most of these studies are only three to ten years in duration. "Most neurosurgeons and brain tumor experts agree that brain cancer develops over a much longer time frame, up to 20 or 25 years," she says. "Unfortunately, the studies are too short." Proving something as fact in the US means data must be replicated, association once, is not enough. It makes sense scientifically, however, proving diseases like brain cancer, which are slow evolving, takes many years/generations. Thus, if there may be a connection, precautions should be taken while research is being conducted.
Children today will have a lifetime of cell phone usage. It makes common sense that, unlike their parents, they will be exposed to far more electromagnetic radiation. Cell Phones are not going away. It is silly to think technology would regress. So, parents have a few choices: When children will start using them and how they will be used. Make informed decisions, as parents, as to when this piece of technology is necessary for your child. It can certainly be used at a young age, but are the risks worth the convenience. Realize that once a child has a cell, lacking strict control, it will be utilized more and more with each passing
"How" is just as important as "when."
Doctors recommend using an earpiece instead of holding the phone to the ear (not a Bluetooth variety). Some cell phone manufacturers even include in the instruction manual to hold the phone 1/8 inch from the ear. How often do you see that happen? Speakerphone is a good viable option for children. It may limit it's usage somewhat, but is far safer. Also, experts suggest a contract written by parents and signed by children outlining phone usage. This contract includes punishments for violations and the right to cancel the cell phone, if rules are disobeyed. This is a "user's license" not unlike a driver's license. A responsible parent would never just hand over the keys to a car and say, "Be safe"! There are rules to obey for the privilege, such as safety guidelines (including photo sending, downloading and driving use), cost responsibilities, app purchases, web surfing, videos, hours of use, whom may have their number, texting privileges and limits, school rules and answering parental calls. Technology opens a world of possibility, but it takes intentional parenting to help children navigate it safely.
Strike a Balance.
Mindfulness trainer Maya Talisman Frost told TechNewsWorld, "The key to managing kids' technology use is to establish clear 'tech-free' zones," she explained. "This means recognizing times when the present moment is the priority and technology is given a secondary role. Kids need to learn that there are times when paying attention to those around you is of primary importance, no matter what type of urgent phone calls or instant messages might be coming their way." Nearly every expert recommends restricting cell phone use. Learning to relate with those in proximity is of far more significance. Technology certainly lends to less face-to-face interactions which leads to many relational issues. Faces, body language, context and intonation all input as to how a message is interpreted. When words are communicated only by text, all of these components are missing. This leaves a huge amount of communication lacking. Children need "face time" to develop healthy communication skills. Which reinforces the need for "off" time. Consider the "1 Rule": one hour a day, one day a week, one week a year, all phones are off. By all means, parents should control an end time each evening, when phones are handed over for the night. For many teens, having cell phones in bedrooms can lead to unhealthy behavior and misuse.
Young ones face challenges and choices their parents never dreamed of. Parents must take the lead role in helping them navigate the "techno-world" surrounding them. I would dare say; it would be best to teach them to tie shoelaces long before you give them a cell phone.
Elaine Stone, mother of three, lives in Spotsylvania.