Mommy, Can You Hear Me Now?

Fears and suspicion about cell phone use and brain tumors won’t go away, maybe because the results of study after study are all over the map with no conclusive findings.  Results from the National Institutes of Health suggest that while there’s still no clear evidence of a cancer link, cell phone radiation DOES cause an increase in brain activity.

This well designed study used PET scans to measure brain activity when cell phones were held up to the ears of users — turned off, and turned on but muted — and found that brain activity was increased on the side of the brain where the active phone was held to the ear. NO conversation was going on, the phones were simply turned off or on. The study showed that the human brain is sensitive to cell phone use.

While we don’t know whether this increase in brain activity is risky or dangerous, it should give us pause when it comes to our kids who are using cell phones at younger and younger ages and accumulating a lifetime of exposure.

Many experts say “why take a chance?” when it comes to kids and cell phones, but let’s face it, cell phones are here to stay for adults AND kids, so maybe we can be smarter about it. Take some simple precautions:

How young is young? When does kiddo need a cell phone? Does your 8-year-old really  need to contact you during the school day or while at a play date? What is the purpose of the phone? We firmly believe that very few children can be responsible for a cell phone before middle school.

Have your child use an earpiece or put the phone on speaker when talking. Those little earbuds that kiddo uses with her ipod work great with most cell phones, too. Use ’em.

Reconsider your position on texting. Lots of parents cringe at the cost of texting when the number of messages gets up there. Consider an unlimited text plan for your family — if your kid’s like ours they’d rather text anyway. And it keeps the phone away from young, growing brains.

Limit access time. Consider a “cell free” period that starts before dinner and continues through homework and family time. Have everyone toss their phones in a basket in the front hall or on the kitchen counter. Lead by example and turn your own phone off during the evening.

Support the NO CELL policy at your kid’s school. While your child will undoubtedly look for ways around it, make it clear that you’re a fan of ‘just say no’. Hey — we’re all on the same team!

That said, there are loads of other safety reasons to monitor your kids’ cell phone use. From “sexting” to hi-tech bullying, cell phones can be a very mixed blessing. The more on top of it you are, the safer your kids will be.

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Ellen and Rachel are two old friends and “expert” mamas—one a pediatrician and one a family therapist—with fifty years of parenting experience between them.

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