Can Mobile Phones Harm Children?

  • By: The DIG for Kids
  • Time to read: 4 min.
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There are currently over 60 million mobile phones being used in the UK and they continue to increase in popularity, as new features become available. Just as you struggle to remember life before TV, it would be unimaginable not to have mobile phones – our children have never known a world without them.

While most studies have found no raised risk of brain tumours, the long-term effects of using a mobile regularly are still not known as they have only been in widespread use since the 1990s.

It’s Just a Little Phone, How Bad Can it be?

Some 10-year reports have been published overseas that report increased incidences of tumours on nerves that connect the ear to the brain and, in the UK, there has been so much concern that the Government and industry have jointly funded a series of studies as part of the £7.4 million Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research programme, the results of which will not be available for some time.

That said, official advice is only to let children aged 16 and under use mobiles when necessary and to text as opposed to making calls, though this can ramp up bills considerably. A mobile phone for children aged 4-10, the Teddyfone, was widely condemned as irresponsible when it was launched. A spokesman for the Mobile Operators Association said: “The companies we represent don’t market their products to under-16s, as recommended by Sir William Stewart (Chairman of the Health Protection Agency). We believe that it is a responsible policy and is in line with the advice on health.”

And therein lies the key. Believe it or not, there are ways to use a mobile responsibly that can reduce the effect of the radiowaves being pumped through your head. It requires a brief explanation of how a phone works.

Mobile phones are designed to transmit radiowaves in all directions because base stations could be in any direction with respect to phone users. This means that a proportion of the radiowaves they produce is directed towards the user’s body – your head, in short.

The radiowaves that are directed towards the head of the phone user penetrate into the body tissues for a few centimetres and tend to be absorbed. In being absorbed, they give up their energy to the body tissues and this adds to the energy being produced by the body’s metabolism. If you use the phone for a long time (six minutes is considered a long mobile phone call), then your head may feel warm where you held the phone to it – this is the effect of the increase in energy in your head. Some people have reported headaches after long mobile phone calls.

When you think how much smaller a child’s head is with thinner skin (and with the very young, softer bone), giving them the same mobile an adult would use will potentially cause more damage. There are ways of buying a phone that will potentially harm you less, as they all have to pump out radiowaves to find a signal, though there are recommended limits and some phones have lower emissions – ask your retailer next time you change your handset.

Does Moving it Away From the Head Help Then?

The antenna is the main source of the radiowaves that produce a Specific Absorption rate (SAR) in the body. Moving the phone away from the head, for example by using a hands free kit, will reduce the localised SAR in the head but may increase the localised SAR in other parts of the body.

But in a nutshell, using a mobile phone less will give rise to lower exposure and reduce the health risks. Simple, really.

Given that this is information that the Health Protection Agency issue via their website, it may surprise you to know that in the UK there is no explicit legislation that limits people’s exposure to electromagnetic fields, including the radiowaves used in mobile telephony. But there are a number of other regulatory and voluntary routes through which exposure is controlled, which you can find on their website.

This is a very sensitive area as so much research is ongoing, and any group of parents will have differing opinions on whether children should have mobile phones or not (just under half of all children aged 8-11already have mobile phones).

Mobile phone are beneficial as they are good way of Finding Out Where Older Children Are, but you might want to consider whether the benefits of staying in touch by phone are better than the potential health risks, not to mention the potential risks from text-bullying, excessive charges, inappropriate material and mugging.

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