Most Americans, including children, use electronic devices like cellphones, tablets and smartwatches, for hours every day – and many have developed symptoms that look like addictive behavior. In 2017, children ages 8 and younger spent, on average, 48 minutes on mobile devices daily, and 42 percent of children 8 and younger have their own tablet devices, according to Common Sense Media.
But frequent use of electronic devices may pose health risks beyond addiction.
So far, the issue of children’s exposure to radiofrequency radiation from wireless devices has been missing from the debate about children’s screen time. Research from the National Toxicology Program reveals troubling evidence that cellphone radiation could cause brain and heart cancer.
Scientists exposed laboratory animals to radiofrequency radiation at levels similar to and higher than those emitted by cellphones. The exposed animals showed a greater likelihood of developing malignant glioma, a type of brain cancer, as well as heart tumors, compared to unexposed animals. Although this study tested radiation effects on animals, it offers valuable insight into the potential risk to people, including future exposure to 5G wireless networks.
Digital devices and the spectrum of invisible radiofrequency waves they transmit are changing rapidly. Even though scientific studies of cellphone radiation’s health impacts have not kept pace with the rapid technology developments, available research suggests that long-term exposure to wireless radiation could result in long-lasting health harm.
When EWG asked our audience how concerned it was about cellphone radiation, over 21,000 people answered, 95 percent of whom were either extremely or very concerned about young kids using cellphones and other wireless devices.
Since 2009, EWG has been doing research on possible health risks of cellphone and wireless radiation, especially for children’s health. In 2011 the World Health Organization classified cellphone radiation as a possible carcinogen.
In December 2017, the state of California officially issued guidelines advising cellphone users to keep phones away from their bodies. When the groundbreaking guidelines were made public, California Department of Public Health Director Karen Smith said:
Simple steps, such as not keeping your phone in your pocket and moving it away from your bed at night, can help reduce exposure for both children and adults … Children's brains develop through the teenage years and may be more affected by cell phone use. Parents should consider reducing the time their children use cell phones and encourage them to turn the devices off at night.
“Kids can take these [mobile devices] to bed,” Common Sense Media Chief Executive Jim Steyer told The Boston Globe. “They are not like a TV set, and anyone who says they are the same is kidding themselves. The big picture is about the impact on social, emotional, and cognitive development.”
Similarly, CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta recommends a “digital detox,” with steps like turning off your phone before you go to bed.
Parents, pediatricians and educators have started sounding the alarm about the harmful impacts of children’s addiction to digital devices. In a study of 4- to 11-year-old children, published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture, clinical child psychologist Sarah E. Domoff found that problems with media and screen addiction can begin much earlier than many parents realize.
EWG scientists are continuing to study the issue closely, scrutinizing all new research on cellphone safety. Because electronic devices have become an essential tool in everyday life –from answering work emails to keeping kids entertained while making dinner – these devices are not just going to disappear from our lives. We must teach our children to use these devices safely and respect limits on their use. Here are some of EWG’s top tips for reducing children’s exposure to wireless radiation.
Limit children’s exposure to radiofrequency wireless devices:
- Limit their use of the phone as a toy.
- If your kids use your phone to play games, use airplane mode, so the phone does not emit radiofrequency radiation.
- Make sure to turn off wireless devices at night. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all screens be turned off 30 minutes before bedtime, and that TVs, computers and other electronic devices not be allowed in children’s bedrooms.
- Keep the Wi-Fi router away from children’s bedrooms. Some experts recommend turning the router off at night, to decrease the radiofrequency radiation levels in your home.
Teach older children safe digital device habits like:
- Using a headset or speaker while talking on the cellphone, rather than holding it directly to your ear.
- Keeping the phone, tablet or other wireless device away from the body – for example, on a table instead of a pocket.
- At night, storing the wireless devices away from the body – never under the pillow or in bed.
To learn more, visit EWG’s Guide to Safer Cellphone Use.