I'm not really sure how parenting happened before cell phones. How did my parents know where I was at night in high school? Before anyone accuses me of over-parenting and laments this new age of Big Brother moms and dads, I know that growing up in New York City before it was as safe as it is today even I -- as the kid, not the parent -- would have been more comfortable coming home at my curfew if I had had a cell in my bag.
But even if they make both parents and kids feel safer, are they actually safe?
I follow all of the recent studies on cell phones, warily, as I continue to use mine. They don't seem like a good idea, health wise. I use a headset to reduce my exposure to electromagnetic radiation, but they break all the time and, when they don't, I often misplace them. I try to text and email more than I talk, in another effort to reduce exposure to my head. In general I have a low- to medium-grade mistrust of the things and yet don't seem to be able to get by without one, as a mom or as a journalist.
I was particularly uncomfortable with the phone when my daughter was a baby strapped to my chest in a carrier as she napped and I walked and walked and walked. In the early days, when she would sleep even if I were talking, I spoke on the phone to pass the time. Not only was the phone next to my head, it was next to her tiny head. Somehow (lack of sleep?) this didn't occur to me until later. I truly don't think that was a good idea. A growing tiny brain is more vulnerable than my still vulnerable bigger grown brain. Just look at these model estimate images from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute showing how much electromagnetic radiation from a cell phone is absorbed based on age. Scary.
Which is why it more than interested me to read that France has banned cell phone use in its elementary schools due to health concerns regarding wi-fi radiation. Previously mobile phones were permitted on grounds but not in classrooms. But the new ruling will take that further to ban them entirely. Moreover, cell phone companies in France will be required to supply phones that only work with a headset in an effort to reduce exposure to electromagnetic radiation. Some people wanted the government to go further and regulate where cell phone towers can live.
My daughter is now three, so this isn't a big issue for us yet, but we have plenty of cousins and friends who are in the 10ish to 20ish age range. This got me thinking about them as well as our future. I already don't let my daughter borrow my cell to talk to her father or her grandparents during the day. If she wants to, I put the phone on speakerphone and allow her to do it that way. It drives me crazy that parents "donate" their old cell phones to her preschool where the kids are allowed to use them as toys to pretend play. They are not toys! But when she gets older what will I do? I'm hoping by then there will be more definitive research and regulation on cell phones, and/or I'll allow her to have one that is considered "better" and will suggest she mainly text and email, and employ a headset when speaking on the phone.
As mobiles are still allowed in our American schools, here are some other suggested precautions from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (based on advice from an international expert panel). The only thing I have to add is if you're using a cell around a baby strapped to you or a kid in a stroller, make sure you're not keeping the phone next to the baby's head (like in the top of the stroller) when not in use.
Given the absence of definitive proof in humans of the carcinogenic effects of electromagnetic fields of cell phones, we cannot speak about the necessity of preventative measures (as for tobacco or asbestos). In anticipation of more definitive data covering prolonged periods of observation, the existing data press us to share important prudent and simple measures of precaution for cell phone users, as have been variously suggested by several national and international reports.
These measures are also likely to be important for people who are already suffering from cancer and who must avoid any external influence that may contribute to disease progression.
Do not allow children to use a cell phone except for emergencies. The developing organs of a fetus or child are the most likely to be sensitive to any possible effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields.
While communicating using your cell phone, try to keep the cell phone away from the body as much as possible. The amplitude of the electromagnetic field is one fourth the strength at a distance of two inches and fifty times lower at three feet.
Whenever possible, use the speaker-phone mode or a wireless Bluetooth headset, which has less than 1/100th of the electromagnetic emission of a normal cell phone. Use of a headset attachment may also reduce exposure.
Avoid using your cell phone in public places, like a bus, where you can passively expose others to your phone's electromagnetic fields.
Avoid carrying your cell phone on your body at all times. Do not keep it near your body at night such as under the pillow or on a bedside table, particularly if pregnant. You can also put it on "flight" or "off-line" mode, which stops electromagnetic emissions.
If you must carry your cell phone on you, it is preferable that you orient the keypad toward your body and the back is positioned toward the outside of your body. Depending on the thickness of the phone this may provide a minimal reduction of exposure.
Keep your conversations short. Only use your cell phone to establish contact or for conversations lasting a few minutes as the biological effects are directly related to the duration of exposure. For longer conversations, use a land line with a corded phone, not a cordless phone, which uses electromagnetic emitting technology similar to that of cell phones.
Switch ears regularly while communicating on your cell phone to spread out your exposure. Before putting your cell phone to the ear, wait until your correspondent has picked up. This limits the power of the electromagnetic field emitted near your ear and the duration of your exposure.
Avoid using your cell phone when the signal is weak or when moving at high speed, such as in a car or train, as this automatically increases power to a maximum as the phone repeatedly attempts to connect to a new relay antenna.
When possible, communicate via text messaging rather than making a call, limiting the duration of exposure and the proximity to the body.
Choose a device with the lowest SAR possible (SAR = Specific Absorption Rate, which is a measure of the strength of the magnetic field absorbed by the body). SAR ratings of contemporary phones by different manufacturers are available by searching for "sar ratings cell phones" on the internet (or in this feature on The Daily Green).
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