Children use cell phones to watch TV, play games, make phone calls, and send text messages. Many older kids and teens have their own cell phones, which they are attached to 24/7. But are there risks to such frequent use by children, and if so is that different than the risks for adults?
Cell phones emit a type of radiation that is known as Radio Frequency-Electromagnetic Radiation (RF-EMR), also referred to as microwave radiation. There have been concerns from the scientific community about whether or not cell phones are safe. Cancer is a particular concern, but since cancers take 10-20 years to develop and children’s frequent cell phone use is a relatively recent development, there are more questions than answers. To read more about whether we should be worried about cell phone radiation in general, read our article here.
There are several studies of the impact of cell phone radiation on children. Here are some of the conclusions so far:
A 2010 study of cell phone radiation noted that, “in general and on average, children suffer a higher exposure of their brain regions than adults.” This is because children have proportionally smaller heads and brains, yet receive the same levels of cell phone radiation as adults. The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees, saying that “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 study found that people who begin using cell phones (and cordless landline phones) before the age of 20 are at an even higher risk of developing brain tumors than people who begin using these wireless phones as adults. This is because of the closer proximity of the source of radiation to the brain of kids (they have thinner tissues and bones than adults).
Research also suggests that cell phone exposure could affect children’s behavior. The children in the study who were hyperactive or had emotional or behavioral problems, including trouble getting along with other kids, were much more likely to have mothers who used cell phones during pregnancy. After accounting for other factors that could affect behavior, the children of these mothers were 80% more likely to have behavioral problems than children whose mothers rarely or didn’t use cell phones. However, this is difficult to study because mothers who use cell phones frequently during pregnancy or after the baby is born, may pay less attention to their children, resulting in the children’s bad behavior. More research is needed to understand the link between mother’s cell phone use and children’s behavior.
Children that used cell phones more were more likely to have ADHD. Although the link to ADHD was only for children who also had high levels of lead in their blood, when researchers adjusted for blood lead level, they still found that ADHD was more likely for children who made more phone calls and spent a longer amount of time on the phone. This study was conducted in Korea, so it would be important to do similar research on children living in other countries.
A 2014 article reviewing studies on children and their cell phone use found that the younger the child, the greater the risk of brain cancer and brain tumors. The same article also points to studies concluding that cell phones are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer (due to adolescents putting cell phones in their bras), parotid (salivary) gland tumors, and sperm damage for adolescents and adults.
Reactions to Research About Cell Phone Radiation
In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics wrote a letter to the Federal Communications Commission, which sets the standards for cell phone radiation in the United States, and recommended that they reevaluate these standards since this had not been done since 1996. Their reasoning is that “children, however, are not little adults and are disproportionately impacted by all environmental exposures, including cell phone radiation.”2 But, as of 2015, the FCC still says that there is no evidence between wireless device use and health problems and continues to uphold the regulations from 1996. Other countries have taken a different approach. As of 2014, Turkey, Belgium, Australia, and France have warned about the dangers of children’s cell phone usage.
Scientists disagree on whether cell phone radiation can cause cancer or other health problems. Since so many children and adults use cell phones so frequently, that makes it difficult to do a study comparing high and low cell phone usage. And since brain tumors and other cancers usually do not develop until several decades after the initial exposure, it could be years before we know how risky cell phones are and under what circumstances.