Three years ago (May, 2011) the World Health Organization (WHO) was concerned enough about radiation exposure from cell phones and other handheld devices to classify them as “possible carcinogens,” a category 2B risk. This means allowing children to spend time on cell phones, handheld video games—or any device that connects to the internet and emits a radio frequency (RF)—is considered a “possible” cancer risk.
In her blog, Rowan laid out ten bullet points with links to supportive research about the risks of radiation exposure. While each and every one of the ten points is worth knowing about, I’d like to focus on two of them: radiation exposure risks and digital dementia.
Children Are Especially Vulnerable to Radiation Exposure
are smaller and less protected by the thicker skulls adults have. Also, children’s brains are growing at an incredibly rapid rate— especially before age two. So, anything that can disrupt the electrical activity of these developing minds has the potential to impact how that grey matter becomes hard-wired.
I’ve been concerned as I watch my own grandchildren and their friends rely on iPads, games on cellular phones, and more to occupy themselves. I also see how challenging it is for my grown children to enforce limits on these devices. But Rowan’s blog has me even more concerned than ever about radiation exposure in children.
Plus, a Canadian doctor at the University of Toronto’s School of Public Health— Dr. Anthony Miller—is so concerned about the latest research into the dangers of RF exposure that he suggests it be reclassified as a category 2A—which is a PROBABLE carcinogen. That shakes me right through to my bones!
Dr. Miller is not alone. Our own American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) asked for a review of the radiation emitted by these devices in 2013. In a formal paper the AAP suggests “we adopt standards that protect our children’s health and wellbeing, reflect current use patterns, and provide meaningful consumer disclosure.” I commend the AAP for taking this stance.
Another Concern with Handheld Devices is “Digital Dementia”
In her Huffington Post article, Rowan also pointed out that teens and young adults are developing a new condition called “digital dementia.” It’s a term used to describe a deterioration in cognitive functioning that affects short term memory.
One reason for digital dementia suggested by Dr. Carolyn Brockington of St. Luke’s Roosevelt Medical Center is that our children don’t feel the need to memorize information anymore. She cites that an overreliance on technology can cause us to go for the quick answer instead of engaging our brains to retrieve information it has. Plus, neuro-imaging has shown that excessive screen time damages the brain, and that screen-addicted brains show a loss of integrity in the gray matter.
The good news is that unlike age-related dementia, digital dementia is reversible. But, can chronic use of these technologies eventually affect the evolution of the human brain? No one can know for sure.
So, What’s the Bottom Line?
For those of you who have always felt that screen time should be limited, you’re right. The Canadian Society of Pediatrics guidelines suggest that children under the age of two have no exposure, that three to five year olds be limited to one hour daily, and that children six to 18 be limited to two hours daily.
My grandchildren have already adjusted to the fact that there’s no Wifi at grandpa’s when they visit—only a hard wired (DSL) computer with time limits. I’ve also made a point to gift them with books, rather than gadgets—and engage in meaningful conversation.
Also, I’ve finally convinced two young cousins to talk rather than sit next to one another and text. They are even finding that conversation is “cool” because they’re modeling us—the adults they look up to who are all too often toggled to their own handheld devices. We can all benefit from these human connections.
Plus, remember that when you’re talking on a cell phone or playing a game on a handheld device, the children near you are exposed to some of that radiation. So, let’s all band together to reduce the radiation exposure of the children in our lives.
Now it’s your turn: How do you monitor your children’s radiation exposure?